U.N.: death toll at 11 in Ebola outbreak in West Africa

Monday, December 10th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

GENEVA (AP) _ Eleven people, almost all from an extended family, have died in the latest outbreak of Ebola as experts race to contain the highly contagious disease in the West African nation of Gabon, the United Nations said Monday.

World Health Organization Gregory Hartl said all the deaths appeared to have occurred last week, and that it was rising because health experts were getting a better idea of the extent of the outbreak.

The outbreak was first reported Dec. 4 in remote Ogooue Ivindo province in northeastern Gabon, near the border with the Republic of Congo.

It has been pinpointed to a settlement about 40 miles southeast of the town of Mekambo, he said.

The WHO does not have a total count of infections, Hartl said.

The dead include 10 members of an extended family and a health worker, Hartl said. That is a typical pattern for Ebola, which spreads quickly to people coming in contact with the patients or their bodies.

He said a second team of WHO specialists was being assembled to fly to Gabon on Monday evening, following a group of experts sent out last week.

The team will help Gabon officials in containing the disease, partly by helping local medical staff learn to use ``barriers'' like gloves and masks to prevent contact with the bodily fluids of patients, Hartl said.

It is the first documented outbreak of Ebola since last year in Uganda, where 224 people, including health workers, died from the virus. Ebola is one of the most virulent viral diseases known to humankind, causing death in 50 to 90 percent of all clinically ill cases.

Gabon was last afflicted in an outbreak in 1996-97 that killed 45 of the 60 people infected.

Hartl said Sunday that a laboratory in Franceville, also in eastern Gabon, had confirmed that the disease was Ebola, which has similar symptoms to other, less deadly hemorrhagic fevers.

A team from the Gabon Ministry of Health and the International Center of Medical Research in Franceville went to the province last week when they first received reports that the outbreak might be Ebola, Hartl added.

Ebola is passed through contact with bodily fluids, such as mucus, saliva and blood, but is not airborne. The virus 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 patients treated early for dehydration have a good chance of survival.

WHO says more than 800 people have died of the disease since the virus was first identified in 1976 in western Sudan and in a nearby region of Zaire, now Congo.