The Ebola virus that has killed at least 59 people of the 80 who initially contracted it in Guinea now threatens all of West Africa, as health officials in Liberia try to determine if recent deaths there are connected.
Six cases have been reported of which five have already died, including a child, Liberian Health Minister Walter Gwenigale said in a statement, according to Agence France-Presse.
There was a suspicion that Ebola had migrated to Canada, with one victim hospitalized this week with a fever and bleeding, but health officials said tests for Ebola were negative.
The World Health Organization said the case may be severe malaria.
The WHO has documented the Ebola virus is transmitted from wild animals to humans, with the capability of spreading through the human population.
Fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are considered to be the natural host of the Ebola virus, and, most alarming, there is no effective medical treatment or preventative vaccine for either animals or human beings.
Many Americans first heard about Ebola – including its terrifying symptoms, virulence and communicability – in author Richard Preston’s 1995 No. 1 New York Times bestseller, “The Hot Zone.”
The BBC reported Tuesday that Guinea has now banned the sale and consumption of bats to prevent the spread of the disease, according to Rene Lamah, Guinea’s health minister.
Lamah explained to the BBC that people who eat the bats often boil them into a spicy pepper soup sold in village stores where people gather to drink alcohol. Other ways of preparing bats to eat include drying them over a fire.
The WHO reports Ebola first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks, in Nzara, Sudan, and in a village in Yambuku, Congo, situated near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name.
“Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals,” the WHO website notes.
“In Africa, infection has been documented through the handling of infected chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines found dead or ill in the rainforest.”
The WHO warns of burial ceremonies in which the deceased person can play a role in the transmission of Ebola. The transmission of the disease via infected semen can occur up to seven weeks after clinical recovery.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn the symptoms of Ebola include fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain and lack of appetite. Some patients also experience a rash, red eyes, hiccups, cough, sore throat, chest pain, difficulty breathing and swallowing, as well as bleeding inside and outside of the body.
After an incubation period of between two and 21-days, the Ebola virus can cause death a few days after the virus appears in particularly virulent cases in which the body organs shut down and internal bleeding becomes unstoppable.
People who fall sick with the disease tend to vomit, have diarrhea, and suffer both internal and external bleeding, explained Dr. Peter Piot, the founding executive director of UNAIDS and under secretary-general of the United Nations from 1995 until 2008, in a Reuters report.
Piot is the microbiologist and physician who co-discovered Ebola and now directs the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
The Ebola virus has alarmed international health officials because the frequency of international air travel has increased the possibility the outbreak in one nation might quickly be transmitted to other countries by patients in the incubation phase.
Guinea, one of the world’s poorest nations, ranked 156 of 187 countries in the 2013 United Nations Human Development Index, or HDI, based on cross-country data from the United Nations Population Division, UNESCO, and the World Bank.
The CDC has identified five subspecies of Ebola. Four of the five have caused disease in humans: Ebola virus (Zaire ebolavirus); Sudan virus (Sudan ebolavirus); Taï Forest virus (Taï Forest ebolavirus, formerly Côte d’Ivoire ebolavirus); and Bundibugyo virus (Bundibugyo ebolavirus. The fifth, Reston virus (Reston ebolavirus), is known to cause disease only in nonhuman primates.
According to a Stanford University report, the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic, known as “Spanish Flu” or “La Grippe,” killed more people than World War I. An estimated 20 to 40 million people worldwide died, making it the most lethal epidemic virus documented in the 20th century.