Guinea is fighting a new outbreak of Ebola, health officials in the West African nation said on Sunday, with at least three deaths in a region that was previously the starting point for the world’s worst epidemic of the disease.
The three who died — two women and a man — were among seven people who fell ill with symptoms including diarrhea, vomiting and bleeding after attending the burial of a nurse in the country’s southeast on Feb. 1, the Health Ministry said in a statement.
Officials confirmed an outbreak on Sunday after a laboratory found the virus in the first three samples it tested from the patients.
“The government reassures the people that all measures are being taken to curb this epidemic as quickly as possible,” Guinea’s Health Ministry said on Sunday in a Facebook post.
The government asked people to report any further symptoms to the health authorities and to follow hygiene and prevention measures. It also said it would accelerate delivery of vaccines to the region and open a center to deal with detected cases.
The resurgence comes as West Africa is still grappling with the coronavirus pandemic and after the Democratic Republic of Congo also found new cases of Ebola, three months after health officials said they had eradicated Congo’s last outbreak.
Guinea had not seen an Ebola case since 2016, when it came to the end of an epidemic that began in its southeastern region in 2014. That outbreak, the deadliest so far, spread through neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone, eventually infecting more than 28,000 people in 10 countries and killing more than 11,000.
Since then, though, researchers have found new vaccines, treatments and rapid diagnostic tests, as well as new ways of responding to outbreaks.
“Given these new tools, plus the fact that qualified Guinean health workers, who already have experience responding to Ebola, are on the ground, we hope to be able to control this outbreak quickly,” Nicolas Mouly, program manager for emergency response at the Alliance for International Medical Action, said in a statement.
The alarm was raised much faster than in the 2014-2016 outbreak. Local health workers identified the cluster of cases, and teams of contact tracers have been quickly reinforced.
“A lot of lessons were learned, including the need to involve the communities from the beginning,” said Dr. Georges Ki-Zerbo, the head of the World Health Organization in Guinea. This includes traditional healers, who are often the first port of call for people in rural Guinea seeking treatment for illnesses.
The first person known to have died in this outbreak is a nurse, but that does not necessarily mean she was the index case. Contact tracers will try to find out how she contracted the disease.
“It is not unusual with Ebola cases to have health care workers in the first cases to be reported,” Dr. Ki-Zerbo said. “It is important to know in what circumstances she may have become infected.”
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Africa, said Sunday on Twitter that she was “very concerned” by the reports from Guinea and that the agency was “ramping up readiness and response efforts to this potential resurgence.”
Spread through contact with an infected or recently deceased person’s bodily fluids or secretions, the Ebola virus causes a hemorrhagic fever with an average fatality rate of about half, though two vaccines are now available against it.
Vaccines are being prepared for shipment to Guinea, and should arrive in the next few days.
The vaccines are not meant for routine use, and so are not automatically administered to people living in rural Guinea, Dr. Ki-Zerbo said. Instead, once there is an outbreak, they are targeted at the population living within a certain area.
Isabella Kwai reported from London, and Ruth Maclean from Dakar, Senegal. Anna Holland contributed reporting.