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Last Updated

29 Dec 2001

Source: Associated Press, December 29, 2001.

Doctors Fear Ebola is Spreading


MAKOKOU, Gabon (AP) -- Doctors confirmed Saturday that a 16-year-old boy has the Ebola virus and another patient has similar symptoms, prompting fears the deadly disease is continuing to spread in Central Africa.

The boy was admitted last week at Makokou's hospital and tested for Ebola, which already has killed 21 people in Gabon and neighboring Republic of Congo, regional health director Prosper Abessolo Mengue said Saturday.

Another patient was admitted Friday with symptoms of the disease, including fever, diarrhea and vomiting.

Neither patient is known to have had contact with any of the previous victims, raising the possibility of still more unidentified cases.

"This is very worrying,'' said Dr. Julien Meyong, medical chief of the hospital in Makokou, about 360 miles east of the capital, Libreville.

Medical officials have identified 18 Ebola cases in this remote part of Gabon since the outbreak began in late October, according to government figures. Fifteen of those patients died.

Twelve more suspected cases have been identified in neighboring Republic of Congo, with six deaths.

The affected region is one of the most thinly populated in both countries. It is covered by vast forests with tiny villages inhabited by Pygmies and other hunter tribes.

A team of medical experts from the World Health Organization and Gabon's health ministry arrived in December and has been working with military doctors to trace victims, treat patients and educate people about the disease.

The international aid group, Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, also is helping to contain the virus.

Ebola is one of the most deadly viral diseases known to man. The virus is passed through contact with bodily fluids but is not airborne.

There is no cure, and death occurs in up to 90 percent of those who contract it -- usually due to massive blood loss. But the disease usually kills its victims faster than it can spread, thus burning out.

Medical experts currently are monitoring 206 people -- 91 in Gabon and 115 in Republic of Congo -- who may have had contact with those infected with Ebola.

Everyone who had contact with the boy and the other patient -- if confirmed to have Ebola -- would be added to that list.

WHO says more than 800 people have died of Ebola 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 last year.