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West Africa Ebola outbreak still spreading, 'situation serious': WHO

By Stephanie Nebehay and Saliou Samb

GENEVA/CONAKRY (Reuters) - Guinea's capital Conakry has recorded its first new Ebola cases in more than a month, while other previously unaffected areas have also reported infections in the past week, according to the World Health Organisation.

The spread of the two-month-old outbreak, which Guinean authorities earlier said had been contained, risks further complicating the fight against the virus in a region already struggling with weak healthcare systems and porous borders.

"The situation is serious, you can't say it is under control as cases are continuing and it is spreading geographically," Dr Pierre Formenty, a WHO expert who recently returned from Guinea, told a news briefing in Geneva on Wednesday.

"There was no decline. In fact it is because we are not able to capture all the outbreak that we were under the impression there was a decline," he said.

The WHO reported two new cases, including one death, between May 25 and 27 in Conakry. They were the first to be detected since April 26. An outbreak in the capital could pose the biggest threat because the city is Guinea's international travel hub.

Telimele and Boffa - two districts north of Conakry previously untouched by the disease - both confirmed outbreaks through laboratory testing, the WHO said. Twelve cases, including four deaths, were reported there between May 23 and 26, while suspected Ebola infections were documented in the adjacent districts of Boke and Dubreka.

Aboubacar Sidiki Diakité, who heads the Guinean government's efforts to halt the virus's spread, said the origins of all the new outbreaks had been traced back to cases in Conakry.

"The problem is that there are families that refuse to give information to health workers. They hid their sick to try to treat them through traditional methods," he told Reuters.

The outbreak - the first deadly appearance of the haemorrhagic fever in West Africa - has spread from a remote corner of Guinea to the capital and into Liberia.

Sierra Leone reported its first confirmed outbreak of the disease earlier this week. [ID:nL6N0OC39O]

Families of three people hospitalised with suspected Ebola and one confirmed case have removed their loved ones from a clinic in eastern Sierra Leone because they feared the consequences of medical care, said senior Sierra Leone health official Amara Jambal.

"We do not have any idea where they (the four patients) are. Worried? As a doctor I should be worried because an infected person on the loose is not what we want," Jambal told Reuters, adding that those infected should be in isolation.

Formenty said authorities would pursue dialogue with the families in an attempt to get the missing people back into care.

The WHO has documented a total of 281 clinical cases of Ebola, including 185 deaths in Guinea since the virus was first identified as Ebola in March.

The disease is thought to have killed 11 people in Liberia, though there have been no new cases there since April 9.

Sixteen cases - seven of them confirmed through laboratory testing and another nine suspected - have been reported in Sierra Leone's Kailahun district, where four people are believed to have died of the disease.

Ebola, which has a fatality rate of up to 90 percent, is endemic to Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Uganda and South Sudan. Researchers believe the West African outbreak was caused by a new strain of the virus. [ID:nL6N0N94AE]

(Additional reporting and writing by Joe Bavier in Abidjan; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Andrew Roche)

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