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Last Updated

09 Jan 2003

Source: Associate Press, December 19, 2001.

Ebola Kills 16 in Gabon

By Serge Mabika, Associated Press Writer

LIBREVILLE, Gabon -- The death toll from an outbreak of the deadly Ebola disease rose Wednesday to 16 as an international team of medical experts tracked down more victims in this central African country, the World Health Organization said.

Health officials have identified 27 suspected cases, including those who have died, WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said by telephone from Geneva, Switzerland.

There was no immediate indication, however, that the disease was spreading. The figures were rising because progress was being made identifying existing cases, not because new cases are emerging, Hartl said.

Gabon's Health Ministry has so far confirmed only 16 cases, including 12 deaths.

WHO and the Health Ministry have set up operations in Ogooue Ivindo, the province where the outbreak began.

Ten doctors from Medecins Sans Frontieres, known in English as Doctors Without Borders, arrived in Gabon on Tuesday, followed by another staffer on Wednesday. The group also sent medical kits.

Ogooue Ivindo, a jungle area inhabited by pygmies and hunter tribes, is one of the most thinly populated regions in Gabon. Ebola last struck there in 1996-97, killing 45 of the 60 people infected.

The first death in the latest outbreak was recorded Dec. 2. in Ekata, about 5 miles from the Republic of Congo border. Other cases were then reported in three nearby villages -- Ntolo, Mendemba and Ilahounene -- followed by the towns of Makokou and Mekambo.

At least 10 of the dead were members of a single extended family, a typical pattern for Ebola, which spreads quickly to people coming in contact with the patients or their bodies. A nurse who apparently treated one of the victims also died.

Local authorities have restricted movement to and from the affected area.

Ebola is one of the most deadly viral diseases known to humankind, causing death in 50 to 90 percent of those who become infected.

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 the disease usually kills its victims faster than it can spread.

The virus was first identified in 1976 in western Sudan and in a nearby region of Congo.