7 December 2001

Gabon: Suspected Viral Haemorrhagic Fever Investigated

Investigations into a suspected viral haemorrhagic fever outbreak in Gabon and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) started on Wednesday, WHO reported. The UN agency said it received reports that seven people, suspected to have contracted the fever, had died in Ogooue Ivindo Province, north-eastern Gabon, on Tuesday.

A team from the Gabon Ministry of Health and the Centre International de Recherches Médicales de Franceville (CIRMF), supported by military medical personnel and the WHO sub-regional Epidemic Response Team were en route to the province, for the preliminary field investigation, WHO added.

BBC reported on Thursday that an unknown fever had broken out in the DRC and neighbouring Gabon. The Health Minister of Gabon, Faustin Boukoubi, was quoted by Reuters, as saying on Wednesday that six people had died of a mysterious disease.

According to the BBC, the disease in Gabon was suspected to be Ebola. Seventeen people, it added, had died of a similar fever in DRC and a team of epidemiologists had left the DRC capital Kinshasa on Thursday, for Ilebo in the Kasai Occidental province, to investigate.

The two regions have been affected by the Ebola disease before. In 1996, some 66 people were killed in Ogooue Ivindo province of Gabon. A year earlier in 1995, 265 died in Kikwit, Kasai Occidental province of DRC.

According to WHO, the Ebola haemorrhagic fever which was first identified in 1976 near the Ebola River of DRC, is one of the most deadly diseases known to humankind. Between 50-90 per cent of those infected die. Ebola has no known cure and is transmitted by direct contact with the blood, and secretions of infected persons.

The disease is often characterised by sudden onset of fever, weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat, 2 to 21 days after infection; followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, skin rash, kidney and liver failure, and both internal and external bleeding. The latest outbreak occurred in northern Uganda last year where 170 people died.

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