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Last Updated

18 Jan 2002

Source: Reuters, January 17, 2002.

Ebola Virus Death Toll Hits 30 in Central Africa

By Antoine Lawson

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Thirty people have died in an Ebola virus outbreak in a remote forested region of the central African countries of Gabon and the Congo Republic, the World Health Organisation said on Thursday.

It said an international medical team was talking to authorities about returning to the epicentre of the outbreak, from where health workers pulled out last week after angry villagers threatened their safety.

The WHO said that of 24 cases reported in Gabon around the town of Mekambo, 21 sufferers had died. Of 15 cases detected in nearby villages in the Congo republic, the disease had killed nine victims.

Ebola, which causes massive internal bleeding and kills about 90% of those infected, has no vaccine and no known cure. It is spread by contact with body fluids, and health workers have been trying to stop people from touching corpses of Ebola victims.

That brought them into conflict last week with villagers who usually remove certain body parts as part of burial rituals.

An international team sent to battle the outbreak was forced to beat a retreat to Makokou, some 180 kilometers (110 miles) west, because of safety fears.

"Discussions with the provincial and national authorities for the return of the team to Mekambo are continuing,'' the WHO said in a statement.

"It is hoped the team will go back at the earliest possible date to contain the outbreak with the local authorities.''

The government has tried to seal off Ogooue-Ivindo province to stem the disease and banned eating meat from apes as scientists believe the virus can also be caught by eating meat from infected animals.

Villagers in the area had already criticised health workers for imposing the ban on ape meat, regarded as a delicacy in Gabon and a staple by many forest-dwellers around Mekambo.

Ebola is named after a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it was discovered in 1976 and killed more than 250 people in 1995. This is the third known outbreak in Gabon since 1994.