The Ebola virus was detected in samples of a viral hemorrhagic fever that has killed more than 50 people in the West African nation of Guinea marking the first ever human outbreak of the disease in the country, according to government officials on Sunday.
A statement from Guinea’s Health Ministry said they had documented 80 suspected cases of the virus, including the 59 deaths. UNICEF said three children were among the dead.
Most of the cases occurred in the southern part of the country near Sierra Leone and Liberia. Guinea’s health minister and a team of workers have been deployed to the area, while Doctors Without Borders has installed an isolation unit to prevent the virus from spreading.
“In Guinea, a country with a weak medical infrastructure, an outbreak like this can be devastating,” UNICEF’s country representative Dr. Mo-hamed Ag Ayoya said in a statement Sunday.
There are also concerns that the disease may have spread across borders. According to the Health Ministry, one of the infected individuals had traveled into Liberia. Additionally, the World Health Organization said that in Sierra Leone, near the border with Guinea, they are seeing cases with similar symptoms.
While officials have yet to determine how Ebola was introduced in Guinea, humans can contract the virus from contact with an infected animal. Once infected with the disease, humans can pass it to each other through the exchange of bodily fluids.
The only other case of a human contracting Ebola in West Africa occurred in 1994 in a scientist who had been working with chimpanzees in the Ivory Coast. The most recent outbreaks of the disease were seen in Congo and Uganda in 2012.