Wednesday, September 12, 2007

OUTBREAK: ‘Mysterious’ new disease killing hundreds of human beings and animals
A mysterious illness in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has experts scratching their heads.
The illness which appeared three months ago in chickens and pigs later spread to humans causing high fever, vomiting, headache and diarrhea and has claimed the lives of anything from 60 to 100 people.

Many of the victims are thought to have been in contact with the deceased, including medical staff, who lacked the most basic equipment such as face masks to deal with the illness.

The latest victim was a nurse at a local hospital who died last week after taking care of infected patients.

The worse affected area appears to be the province of Kasai Occidental and experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) have been sent to there to try to establish the cause of the illness.

The epidemic has affected the four villages of Kampungu, Makonono, Kaluamba and Mombo.

A joint team consisting of members from WHO, provincial and national health ministries and the National Institute of Biological Research are collecting blood samples for testing at laboratories specialising in haemorrhagic fever.

The WHO says the disease has a high mortality rate and children are particularly vulnerable to the infection.

It is thought general hygiene conditions along with traditional rituals such as bathing dead bodies by hand have helped spread the disease.

WHO said the exact number of victims who have died from the disease is not known.

Health care workers are taking measures to contain the spread of the disease, including improving general hygiene.

Congo's last major Ebola outbreak killed more than 200 people in 1995 in Kikwit, about 400km west of the current outbreak.

Health officials say at this stage it is too early to determine if the new epidemic outbreak is in fact a haemorrhagic fever.

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