Ebola Death Toll Rises In West Africa, Has Spread From Guinea To Neighboring Countries

Several countries in western Africa remain on edge as they deal with the rising death toll from an Ebola virus outbreak. Officials estimate that 84 people have died from the virus, which is highly contagious, and more than 130 people in three countries have contracted it within just six weeks. The Ebola outbreak is believed to have originated in remote locations in Guinea, but has since spread to neighboring Mali, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

The organization Medecins Sans Frontieres says it could turn into an "unprecedented epidemic." When a person develops the Ebola virus disease, there is a 90 percent chance that they will die from it, according to the World Health Organization. There is no known cure.

Last week, health officials confirmed eight cases of Ebola in Guinea's capital of Conakry, and that number has since risen to 16. Many of the city's two million residents live without proper water or sanitation, prompting fears that the virus could spread quickly.

Roland Berenger, West Africa emergency manager for aid organization Plan International, told National Geographic that many people in Guinea continue to live their daily lives, but they are wary.

"The people who have seen cases of Ebola are really scared. When you see people dying, bleeding to death, and there is nothing anyone can do, you get scared. In Conakry, they are going about their daily business, but I think many avoid going to crowded places."

Ebola can be spread through human-to-human contact with sweat, blood, or saliva. It's also transmitted during sex, and the virus has been found in semen for up to seven weeks after recovery. It can also be contracted through animals like fruit bats, which are a delicacy in Guinea and Liberia. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, and both internal and external bleeding, according to WHO.

The outbreak is believed to have originated in a remote forest of Guinea, spread through one man who traveled 200 miles to his family in Conakry. Efforts to control the virus have also been met with some obstacles. Last month, when health workers descended upon a small village in Guinea, it took two days for people to open their doors to the doctors, according to a local taxi driver.

People were running away from the doctors who looked like cosmonauts on their way back from the moon. We have never seen anything like it. Some locked their doors, others hid themselves. It was frightening because there were all kinds of rumors about how this disease was spreading.

Eleven health care workers were among the first to be infected, because they were not educated with the possibility of dealing with the unprecedented Ebola strain. Now they've started distributing brochures and posters to warn about the threat, and medical workers have prepared isolated areas for treatment, says WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic.

In 2012, about 90 cases of the Ebola virus were documented in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.