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Last Updated

22 Dec 2001

Source: Associated Press, December 20, 2001.

WHO: Ebola Outbreak Has Peaked

By SERGE MABIKA, Associated Press Writer

LIBREVILLE, Gabon (AP) - The World Health Organization believes an outbreak of the deadly Ebola disease in two Central African countries has peaked and is now contained, officials said Friday as the death toll rose to 17.

A student nurse died Thursday in Gabon, bringing the death toll there to 13, health officials said. At least four people have died just across the border in Republic of Congo, the WHO said. The nurse was believed to have treated another health worker who died.

The U.N. health organization believes the outbreak in the two countries was "at its peak,'' and is now under control, WHO spokesman Iain Simpson said Friday in Geneva, Switzerland.

"We have identified all the contacts of the people who have been infected, and they are now being monitored and any sign of sickness is being investigated,'' he said.

Local health officials in both countries and WHO workers were watching some 227 people who may have had contact with the victims for signs of the disease.

The outbreak began earlier this month in the northeastern Gabon province of Ogooue Ivindo.

WHO officials believe seven other people are infected in Republic of Congo. Health officials in Libreville say three more have been infected in Gabon. The affected area is a remote, forested region on the border.

Two isolation units have been set up in Gabon to treat victims, and WHO is hoping to establish an additional unit nearby, in the Republic of Congo, subject to government approval. Local authorities there have cordoned off an 125-mile spot and are restricting movement to and from the area.

"These are small villages, very close together and the population is relatively sparse in this area,'' Simpson said. "We are hoping that the numbers in this outbreak are not going to grow particularly beyond what we are now seeing.''

The first death was recorded Dec. 2. in Ekata, a Gabon village about five miles from the Republic of Congo border.

At least 10 of the dead were members of a single extended family - a typical pattern for Ebola, which spreads quickly to people coming in contact with the patients or their bodies.

Ebola is one of the most deadly viral diseases known to humankind, causing death in 50 to 90 percent of those who become infected.

The virus is passed through contact with bodily fluids - such as mucus, saliva and blood - but is not airborne. It incubates for four to 10 days before flu-like symptoms set in. Eventually, the virus causes severe internal bleeding, vomiting and diarrhea.

There is no cure. But the disease usually kills its victims faster than it can spread, burning out before it can reach too far.

WHO says over 800 people have died of the disease since the virus was first identified in 1976 in western Sudan and in a nearby region of Congo. The disease last struck in Uganda, killing 224 people last year.