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Last Updated: Friday, 18 February, 2005, 14:13 GMT
Plague outbreak kills 60 in Congo
Plague is passed to humans through flea bites
At least 60 people are thought to have died in an outbreak of plague in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the World Health Organization has said.

It is thought to be the worst outbreak of pneumonic plague, which affects victims' lungs, for 50 years.

The people who have died are all diamond miners. Another 350 miners have been infected.

The WHO is to send an emergency team to the area, in the former Zaire, in a bid to stem the outbreak.

An advance team has already visited the area to confirm that people are infected with the plague.

The WHO said the mine was near Zobin, in Oriental province, north of the country's biggest city, Kisangani, a major trading centre on the Congo River.

The outbreak began in late December, but the WHO were only alerted to it last week.

Around 7,000 people worked at the mine. The WHO team will focus on trying to trace the 2,000 who have left since the start of the outbreak.

'Unstable area'

Bubonic plague is endemic in parts of Africa, including the DRC, but pneumonic plague, which occurs when bacterium infects the lung, has a very high fatality rate and is "invariably" deadly when left untreated, the WHO said.

Humans are generally infected with plague by rodents and fleas, but the pneumonic form of the disease can also be transmitted from person to person through respiratory droplets.

WHO spokeswoman Christine McNab said: "Normally it can be easily controlled with antibiotics.

"In this case, because it is in an area which is relatively unstable, there hasn't been any opportunity to initiate plague control activities, so the outbreak has grown relatively large."

Plague test 'could save lives'
17 Jan 03 |  Health
08 Feb 03 |  N-P

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