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Sunday, 6 January, 2002, 16:28 GMT
Gabon moves to contain ebola
Scene from a previous outbreak in DR Congo
Ebola kills between 50% and 90% of those infected
Mark Doyle

The authorities in the West African state of Gabon say they have stepped up their efforts to isolate an outbreak of the usually deadly ebola virus, warning people in the affected area not to travel beyond the province.


Officials from the World Health Organisation, who are helping the government contain the virus, say 23 people have died since the outbreak in the remote north-eastern province of Ogooue Ivindo was first noted by the outside world last month.

Ebola is a highly dangerous disease that usually causes death by internal bleeding.

It can be transmitted by an infected person touching another and so spreads quickly, often among extended families.

Containment

The outbreak in Gabon began very near the border with neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville.

But like so many national boundaries in Africa, it is a border in name only, being in reality thick jungle.

So when an infected person went to a traditional healer who lived in Congo-Brazzaville, the disease followed.

Hospital in Uganda
The last outbreak in Uganda killed 224 people

International aid workers are helping the governments of the two countries to try to contain the outbreak by first isolating patients suspected of carrying the virus and then tracing people who may have come in contact with them.

Both aspects of this strategy are extremely difficult in the remote jungle area where the virus was first discovered.

However, the aid workers say that this latest outbreak appears to be concentrated in one cluster, indicating that it may not have been carried very far.

The very remoteness of the region, which has very few roads, may have helped limit its geographical spread.

Although the fact that ebola is usually deadly makes it a dramatic disease, outbreaks usually burn out quickly with those infected dying before it spreads to many other people.

For this reason, ebola kills a relatively small number of people compared with other tropical diseases such as malaria.

See also:

17 Dec 01 | Africa
UN medics tackle Ebola in Gabon
10 Dec 01 | Africa
Ebola confirmed in Gabon
27 Feb 01 | Africa
Uganda Ebola free
06 Dec 00 | Africa
Compensation for Ebola deaths
20 Oct 00 | Medical notes
Ebola and other tropical viruses
18 Oct 00 | Health
Africa's emerging virus threat
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