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Last Updated

15 Feb 2003

Source: Reuters, February 14, 2003

Death Toll from Suspected Ebola Reaches 51 in Congo

By Christian Tsoumou

BRAZZAVILLE (Reuters) - The death toll from a suspected outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in Congo Republic has crept up to 51 and people have begun fleeing into dense forest to escape what some believe to be an evil spell.

Authorities have tried to impose tight restrictions on movement in the hope of preventing the spread of the outbreak, the second reported in little over a year in the remote northwest. It is thought to have been caused by the consumption of infected monkey meat.

Health Minister Alain Moka said late on Thursday that 46 people had died in the Kelle region, and five in the nearby Mbomo region. On Wednesday, health officials put the death toll at 48.

The area is 440 miles from the capital Brazzaville, near the border with Gabon. It has been placed under quarantine and no one is allowed in or out without authorization.

Ebola, which is passed on by infected body fluids, kills 50% to 90% of its victims through massive internal bleeding, depending on the strain. There is no known cure.

Moka said the government had allocated $66,000 to fighting the highly contagious disease and sending medical teams to the affected area.

Mobile radio stations and loudspeakers will be used to give advice to inhabitants. All movement between villages has been forbidden and sports competitions and cultural events banned, Moka said.

But people have begun fleeing their homes as the disease has claimed more victims, raising fears it will spread further. Many locals believe the disease is caused by a spell cast by witch doctors.

On Wednesday, Congo's top official in the fight against Ebola, Joseph Mboussa, said authorities were still trying to determine whether the outbreak was Ebola but suspicions were strong because of the high number of deaths in such a short time.

Mboussa said the Ebola virus had been confirmed in tests on the bodies of animals found in surrounding forests where gorillas, chimpanzees, monkeys and antelopes started dying in large numbers late last year.

Bushmeat has long been a staple in central Africa's forests and is also a popular delicacy in its cities.

Ebola killed at least 73 people in Congo and Gabon in an outbreak from October 2001 to February 2002. That epidemic was also linked to the consumption of infected primates.

The disease was named after a river in Congo's neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, where Ebola was discovered in 1976. The worst outbreak was in that country in 1995 when over 250 people died.