Raging Ebola outbreak subdues celebrations of Islam's Eid holiday in West African countries


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CONAKRY, Guinea — The raging Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 3,400 people in West Africa cast a pall Saturday over celebrations in the region of Eid al-Adha, one of Islam's most important holidays.

In Guinea, the day appeared almost as any other. The usual fields and squares where people gather to pray on the holiday were empty, as people heeded their government's warning to avoid large gatherings. People slaughtered their sheep — the traditional rite of Eid — in small groups at home, rather than at the usual large parties. Merchants complained that few people bought new clothes, as is typical for the holiday, called Tabaski in many parts of West Africa.

"Look at how people are unkempt. Poorly dressed. Have you ever seen Tabaski celebration like this? I never have," said Mamoudou Conde, a 28-year-old who sells car parts in Conakry, Guinea's capital.

In Sierra Leone, the United Council of Imams warned believers not to shake hands or embrace. It was a reminder that even on holidays, the Health Ministry's "ABC" guidelines — Avoid Bodily Contact — must be followed.

Ebola spreads through contact with the bodily fluids of the sick, and with no licensed treatment available, the only way to stop an outbreak is to completely isolate those who are infected. But with more than 7,400 people believed infected, there are far more sick people than beds in isolation units to treat them.

In a bid to stop the spread, the hardest-hit countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone have encouraged people to keep their distance and wash their hands frequently. The disease has also touched Nigeria and Senegal, but neither country has had a new infection in weeks. The United States confirmed its first case this week.

"Ebola is undermining the very foundations of our traditions," said Idrissa Sall, a 32-year-old driver in Conakry. "How can I greet my parents, my children when I'm barred from giving kisses?"

The outbreak, the largest ever for Ebola, has taken a considerable toll on health workers, sickening 382 of them. On Saturday, officials announced that two health workers who became infected with Ebola have recovered from the disease after treatment abroad: a French nurse, who worked for Doctors Without Borders in Liberia, and a Senegalese epidemiologist with the World Health Organization in Sierra Leone.

Associated Press writers Clarence Roy-Macaulay in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

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