By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) - West Africa will be lucky to wipe out Ebola this year, as the local population remains suspicious of aid workers, especially in Guinea, the Red Cross said on Friday.
The virus is "flaring up" in new areas in the region and not all infections are being reported, said Birte Hald, who leads the Ebola coordination and support unit of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
"We are also seeing that in places like Sierra Leone and especially in Guinea that it is flaring up in new districts all the time, with small new chains of transmission, which means that it's not under control and it could flare up big-time again," Hald told a news briefing in Geneva.
"I think that we should consider ourselves lucky and fortunate if we are able to stop it in 2015," she said.
More than 6,000 Red Cross volunteers are deployed in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, tracing contacts of those infected, isolating suspect cases and ensuring safe burials, she said.
But the Red Cross still has "no access" to some communities in Guinea, Hald said. It saw "quite a number of incidents" of backlash in January.
"There are still communities that think, for instance, Ebola is spreading with spraying chlorine, disinfecting of the houses, and it is the Red Cross team that are coming with the chlorine, so they are making that connection," she said.
To de-escalate tensions, the Red Cross is sending police and authorities a day in advance to prepare villages for the arrival of its teams, she said.
"If we don't get full access in Guinea, then we definitely risk that this will become something permanent. If it's permanent in Guinea, then we know also that it will be in the whole region, because there are porous borders," Hald said.
The number of new confirmed Ebola cases totaled 99 in the week to Jan. 25, the lowest tally since June, the World Health Organization said on Thursday, signaling the tide might have turned against the epidemic.. The outbreak has killed 8,810 people out of 22,092 known cases.
Some 27 sub-prefectures in Guinea reported at least one security incident or other form of refusal to cooperate in the week to Jan 21. Two districts in Liberia and four in Sierra Leone reported at least one similar incident, WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said on Friday.
The decline in new cases should not lead to complacency, she said: "Because one unsafe burial - only one - can really create a new chain of transmission and cause other cases of Ebola."
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Larry King)