UPDATE 2-West Africa Ebola outbreak spreads to Liberia's capital, four dead

Tue Jun 17, 2014 1:13pm EDT

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MONROVIA, June 17 (Reuters) - At least four people have died from Ebola in Liberia's capital Monrovia, a World Health Organisation (WHO) and a government official said on Tuesday, the first confirmed deaths in the city from a months-long regional outbreak.

The first cases of the deadly virus were reported in the West African country in March but until now most cases have been contained in the remote far north near the Guinean border.

"There are seven cases reported in one of the suburbs of Monrovia and four are confirmed. They are all dead," said WHO's country representative Nestor Ndayimirije.

He said that the new cases had been linked to an elderly woman who arrived in the country from neighbouring Sierra Leone about a fortnight ago.

The regional outbreak began in southern Guinea in February.

Since then more than 200 people have died in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia and new cases are still being reported despite Guinea's claims to have brought the situation under control.

A Liberian health ministry report dated June 16 showed there were 18 confirmed cases and 15 suspected (CHG) cases in Liberia, most of them in the northern Lofa County.

Thomas Nagbe, director of the Disease Prevention and Control Division at Liberia's Health Ministry, said that four people in the capital had died from Ebola and four other deaths were suspected cases of the virus.

"We never had the opportunity to confirm the other four because they died and were buried before we got to know," said Nagbe, adding that one of the dead was a health worker.

Liberia is seeking to attract foreign investment as it recovers from an on-off 14-year civil war funded by "blood diamonds" that finally ended in 2003.

A Reuters reporter said the streets around the affected neighbourhood of Monrovia's New Kru Town were unusually quiet on Tuesday, with some cafes closed.

Many residents of the poor, crowded northern suburb of the seaside capital live in shacks made of zinc sheets and share rudimentary toilet facilities.

Health workers at the local hospital said they planned to conduct house searches after residents told them they feared there may be more suspected cases among their neighbours.

Ebola, a tropical virus that kills around 90 percent of its victims, initially causes a raging fever, headaches, muscle pain and conjunctivitis, before moving to severe phases that bring on vomiting, diarrhoea and internal and external bleeding. (Reporting by Alphonso Toweh, Emma Farge and Bate Felix; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Susan Fenton)

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