- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 11, 2001

LIBREVILLE, Gabon Health experts were headed yesterday to the central African nation of Gabon, where 11 persons have died from the highly contagious Ebola virus.

It was not immediately clear how many people are infected, or over what period, but the number of victims is expected to rise. Government officials first said they suspected an outbreak Dec. 4, after villagers reported finding an unusually high number of dead primates, including gorillas and chimpanzees, World Wildlife Fund representative Allogo Ndong said in the capital, Libreville.

Around the same time, patients began turning up with symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea.

The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed the outbreak Sunday, saying it was in the remote northeastern province of Ogooue Ivindo, where 45 persons were killed when Ebola last struck in 1996-97. The area is near the border of the Republic of Congo.

The deaths, mostly in one extended family, so far appeared to have occurred last week, WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said in Geneva. The toll is rising as experts are getting a better idea of the extent of the outbreak, he said.

Health officials from around the country went to the stricken province last week to investigate, as did the WHO. Mr. Hartl said Sunday that a laboratory in the eastern city of Franceville had confirmed that the disease is Ebola, which has similar symptoms to other, less deadly hemorrhagic fevers.

Mr. Hartl said a second team of WHO specialists was assembled to fly from Europe to Gabon yesterday evening. They will help local medical staff use "barriers" like gloves and masks to prevent contact with the bodily fluids of patients, he said.

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

It is the first documented outbreak of Ebola since last year, when 224 persons including health workers died from the virus in Uganda.

Ebola is one of the most virulent viral diseases, causing death in 50 to 90 percent of all clinically ill cases.

The virus is passed through contact with bodily fluids, such as mucus, saliva and blood, but is not airborne. It incubates for four to 10 days before flulike symptoms set in. Eventually, the virus causes severe internal bleeding, vomiting and diarrhea. It is believed to be carried by some animals and insects, who may pass it on to humans.

WHO says more than 800 persons 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.

Ebola usually kills its victims faster than it can spread, burning out before it can reach too far.

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