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At least 59 people dead in Guinea Ebola outbreak

By Christabelle Fombu and Susanna Capelouto, CNN
updated 11:28 AM EDT, Sun March 23, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Medical charity MSF to set up isolation units in affected areas
  • At least 59 out of 80 who contracted Ebola have died, UNICEF says
  • Most cases were in Guinea's southern forest areas, health minister says
  • Symptoms include fever, vomiting and diarrhea

(CNN) -- An Ebola outbreak has killed at least 59 people in Guinea, UNICEF said, as the deadly hemorrhagic fever has quickly spread from southern communities in the West African nation.

Experts in the country had been unable to identify the disease, whose symptoms -- diarrhea, vomiting and fever -- were first observed last month.

Health Minister Remy Lamah said Saturday initial test results confirm the presence of a viral hemorrhagic fever, which according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention refers to a group of viruses that affect multiple organ systems in the body.

In a written statement, UNICEF said at least 59 out of 80 people who contracted Ebola have died. At least three of the victims were children.

How Ebola virus spreads

"In Guinea, a country with a weak medical infrastructure, an outbreak like this can be devastating," the UNICEF representative in Guinea, Dr. Mohamed Ag Ayoya, said in the statement.

UNICEF has prepositioned supplies and stepped up communication on the ground to sensitize medical staff and local populations on how to avoid contracting the illness, Agoya added.

Isolation units

The Guinean Health Ministry warned that the disease is mainly spread from infected people, from objects belonging to ill or dead people, and by the consumption of meat from animals in the bush.

So far, most of the cases have been in the forest area of southern Guinea, and health officials say they are offering free treatment for all patients.

They've urged people to stay calm, wash their hands and report all cases to authorities.

The international medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres announced on Saturday it was reinforcing its medical and logistics teams in Guinea in response to the epidemic.

It is also flying in 33 tons of medicines and equipment and setting up isolation units in the three affected areas in the country.

"Isolation units are essential to prevent the spread of the disease, which is highly contagious," Dr. Esther Sterk, MSF tropical medicine adviser, said in a written statement. "Specialized staff are providing care to patients showing signs of infection."

2012: Uganda declares end of Ebola outbreak

CNN's Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Nana Karikari-apau contributed to this report

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