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Last Updated

17 Nov 2002

Source: Associate Press, March 8, 2002.

Western Afghan Epidemic Kills 40

By STEVEN GUTKIN, Associated Press Writer

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - An epidemic in western Afghanistan (news - web sites) has killed 40 people in two weeks, and health officials believe the illness could be either scurvy or a form of hemorrhagic fever.

Workers for the French non-governmental organization Action Against Hunger learned of the illness when they arrived in the village of Tajwara in late February to deliver food aid, Lorie Hieber Girard of the World Health Organization said Friday.

Eighty people are reported to have contracted the illness, and half of them died, Girardet said.

She added that authorities have not yet identified the disease, but believe it is either scurvy or Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever.

WHO officials in Geneva have said they believe the illness is most likely scurvy, which is caused by a lack of vitamins.

"It looks as though these cases are almost certainly nutritional deficiency," WHO spokesman Lain Simpson said in Geneva. "The symptoms reported don't really bear out hemorrhagic fever,"

But Girardet said that Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever is a prime suspect because the victims have had bloody diarrhea, which she said is a symptom of the fever but not of scurvy.

She said the seven aid workers took a five-day journey by car to get into the region in western Ghor province but the roads have since been snowed over, stranding them.

There are several kinds of hemorrhagic fever with varying levels of seriousness ranging from mild illness to death. Ebola is one hemorrhagic fever.

Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever broke out in Pakistan, Afghanistan's eastern neighbor, in late February. Doctors attributed the deaths of three people to the disease.

The virus that causes Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever which is found in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe is transmitted by ticks, which thrive on sheep and cattle. Infected people can transmit the virus by blood, saliva or droplets from sneezing.