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Last Updated

31 Dec 2001

Source: Associated Press, December 31, 2001.

Deaths Bring Central Africa Ebola Toll to 22

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Two more people have died from Ebola  in Central Africa, bringing to 22 the death toll from an outbreak of the virus in Gabon and the neighbouring Republic of Congo, the World Health Organisation said on Monday.

"Thirty confirmed cases ... including 22 deaths have been reported. An additional five cases are under investigation in Gabon,'' the WHO said in a statement.

The organisation said last Thursday that 20 people had died from the disease, which is spread by contact with body fluids. Ninety percent of infected patients die within days and there is no vaccine or cure.

The outbreak, which was reported in early December in a forested region around Mekambo in northern Gabon, has spread to neighbouring villages in the Republic of Congo.

The WHO said 18 of the confirmed cases had been in Gabon and 12 in the Republic of Congo. A total of 182 other people thought to have had direct contact with the blood or other body fluids of those infected were also being followed up, it added.

Early diagnosis of Ebola is difficult because victims suffer symptoms similar to flu. The virus only becomes apparent in the last stages of infection, when it causes massive internal bleeding.

Scientists believe it can also be caught by eating meat from infected apes, which are regarded as a delicacy in Gabon.

The virus killed at least 66 people in a 1996 epidemic in an area of Gabon near Mekambo. It was first known to have struck the country in 1994, when it left more than 20 dead.

Ebola is named after a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it was discovered in 1976, and where a 1995 epidemic killed more than 250 people.