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Dublin: 12 °C Sunday 31 August, 2014

Funerals are spreading deadly Ebola virus, warn doctors

The outbreak of the virus has already claimed 61 lives.

Medical personal prepare an isolation unit to care for Ebola victims
Medical personal prepare an isolation unit to care for Ebola victims
Image: AP Photo/Rebecca Vasie

DOCTORS HAVE SAID they are doing everything they can to help stem a deadly Ebola virus outbreak in Guinea, but traditions are hampering the response.

The emergency coordinator of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Marie-Christine Ferir, said in an interview her organisation was using a three-tiered approach to “halt as quickly as possible” west Africa’s first-ever haemorrhagic fever outbreak, which has already claimed 61 lives.

However, Ferir warned the spread of the disease to neighbouring Liberia was linked to local traditions in which people travel great distances to attend a funeral and mourners touch the deceased person’s body.

“It requires special precautions to be taken, while respecting local customs,” Ferir told AFP, adding that the Ebola cases in Liberia were a result of mourners with cross-border family ties attending funerals in Guinea before returning home with the virus.

MSF has sent 35 of its health workers to Gueckedou, in the country’s heavily forested south, close to the centre of the outbreak, with the aim of treating those affected, identifying possible new cases and providing information to limit the spread of the disease.

“The priority is to identify people who have been in contact with confirmed or suspected cases, so that we can follow them and isolate them if they present symptoms,” Ferir said.

People must accept to go to our special units (when sick), because if someone suspected of carrying the disease remains in a community, that person can continue to infect others.

To date, no treatment or vaccine is available for the Ebola pathogen, which kills between 25 and 90 percent of those who fall sick, depending on the strain of the virus, according to the World Health Organisation.

Transmission of Ebola to humans can come from wild animals, or from direct contact from another human’s blood, faeces or sweat, or by sexual contact and the unprotected handling of contaminated corpses.

The MSF has established a treatment centre in Gueckedou to help rehydrate those who have contracted the disease, while also helping them manage the pain and the high fevers brought about by Ebola.

Ferir says MSF is also making psychologists available to affected communities, in an attempt to “demystify” the illness and prevent both patients and those treating them to be stigmatised by local communities.

“The population needs to be on board and not against those who are there to help,” Ferir said.

- © AFP, 2014

Read: Ebola outbreak in Guinea ‘could become regional epidemic’ >

Read: New book documents the rise in pandemic diseases and wonders what’s next >

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