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Nobody would have thought that Gueckedou, a market town in southern Guinea, was the front line in West Africa’s battle against the deadly Ebola virus.

When I arrived to report on the outbreak, it was business as usual on the dusty, potholed streets. Traders set up their stalls under tattered, sun-bleached parasols and waved hand-held fans to stop the food spoiling in the tropical heat.

Below the surface, though, lay a simmering tension. Nobody shook hands here if they knew what was good for them, and those who could afford it bought gloves and face masks to avoid the gruesome disease that has killed well over 100 people in Guinea and Liberia since it was first reported in February.

Ebola has broken out periodically in Africa since it first appeared in 1976 in what were then Zaire and Sudan. The virus is spread through contact with infected blood, bodily fluids and tissue, often during funerals when the body is washed by close family members, or in hospitals where victims infect doctors and nurses who are not taking the right precautions.

In Gueckedou, health workers are fighting what the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) described as an “unprecedented epidemic” with soap and education. Those already infected are isolated and nurses help to ease their suffering before their almost certain death. There is no cure and this strain, Ebola Zaire, kills up to 90 percent of victims.