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Last Updated

13 Dec 2001

Source: Associated Press, December 13, 2001.

WHO Team Heads to Gabon Ebola Area


LIBREVILLE, Gabon (AP) -- Experts from the World Health Organization flew Thursday to a remote, forested region to help contain an outbreak of the deadly Ebola disease in this Central African country.

The five-member team, which arrived in Gabon on Tuesday -- will work out of treatment facilities that have been set up in four villages in the northeastern province of Ogooue Ivindo, near the border with Republic of Congo, WHO officials said.

The highly contagious disease has killed 10 people in Gabon and infected two others, including a woman who disappeared from her village late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

Health officials feared she had fled to relatives in Republic of Congo and could spread the disease. Authorities on the other side of the border resumed looking for the woman Thursday.

Authorities in Gabon were still waiting for the results of tests conducted on those who had come into contact with the victims, so the number infected could increase.

The WHO team, which includes experts from France and the United States, will help local authorities isolate and treat victims, as well as distribute protective equipment like gloves and masks to prevent contact with the bodily fluids of patients.

Gabon's government first reported more than a week ago that it suspected an outbreak. WHO confirmed Sunday the disease was Ebola, which has similar symptoms to other, less deadly hemorrhagic fevers.

While a quarantine has not been imposed on the affected region, local authorities are monitoring movement to and from the area. Journalists have not been allowed to travel to the region.

Ogooue Ivindo is one of the most thinly populated regions in Gabon, with tiny villages surrounded by dense jungle. Ebola last struck three in 1996-97, killing 45 of the 60 people infected.

The current outbreak has affected four villages -- Ntolo, Mendemba, Ilahounene and Ekata.

The first death was recorded Dec. 2. The dead include eight members of that man's extended family and a nurse who had treated at least one of the victims -- a typical pattern for Ebola, which spreads quickly to people coming in contact with the patients or their bodies.

This is the first documented outbreak of Ebola since last year, when 224 people -- including health workers -- died from the virus in Uganda.

Ebola is one of the most virulent viral diseases known to humankind, causing death in 50 to 90 percent of all clinically ill cases. But it usually kills its victims faster than it can spread, burning out before it can reach too far.

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 patients treated early for dehydration have a good chance of survival.

WHO says more than 800 people have died of the disease since the virus was first identified in 1976 in western Sudan and in a nearby region of Zaire, now Congo.