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Last Updated

11 Mar 2003

Source: CNN, March 11, 2003

Ebola outbreak kills 100 in Congo

BRAZZAVILLE, Congo Republic (Reuters) -- The deadly Ebola virus has killed 100 people in the remote forests of Congo Republic and wiped out nearly two-thirds of the gorillas in a reserve.

"We have reached the fateful figure of 100 dead," Congo's Health Minister Alain Moka said on Tuesday at a ceremony to accept donations to help fight the outbreak.

The latest Ebola epidemic to hit the central African country struck in January in the dense forest region of Cuvette-Ouest about 440 miles north of the capital Brazzaville.

Ebola is passed on by infected body fluids and kills between 50 and 90 percent of its victims. It starts with a high fever and headache and can lead to massive internal bleeding.

"The government has already spent more than $500,000 to put in place the logistics needed to help the stricken people but the state alone cannot help," Moka said.

"We must have the support of everybody and the international community."

There is no known cure for Ebola and authorities in central Africa have battled the disease by cordoning off affected areas and trying to stop locals eating primates.

Scientists believe this outbreak was triggered by the consumption of infected monkey meat. Bush meat is a staple among remote forest communities and deemed a delicacy in many cities.

Monkeys, chimpanzees and gorillas started dying in large numbers towards the end of last year and primatologists say the impact has been devastating on the Lossi park in Cuvette-Ouest.

At an Ebola conference in Brazzaville last week, primatologist Bermejo Magdalena told Reuters that gorillas had been disappearing at an alarming rate where she works in the Lossi sanctuary.

"In the sanctuary of about 1,200 gorillas we are now down to just 450 gorillas. We have recorded the disappearance of 600 to 800 gorillas," she said, adding the outbreak could spread to the nearby Odzala park and might then contaminate forests in Gabon.

"If Odzala is also contaminated by the epidemic, that's nearly 20,000 gorillas under threat. That's very serious, catastrophic," she said.

Ebola killed 73 people in Gabon and the same area of Congo in an epidemic from October 2001 to February 2002 but experts fear this outbreak is more virulent.

The disease takes its name from a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo where Ebola was discovered in 1976. The worst outbreak was there in 1995 when more than 250 people died.

Despite scientists' efforts to change villagers' eating habits and burial rites, which can involve handling the internal organs of corpses, many believe occult forces are at work.

Four teachers accused of casting a spell to cause the latest Ebola outbreak were stoned and beaten to death in February.