Congo: Ebola epidemic over for now, WHO says

BRAZZAVILLE, 21 Jun 2005 (IRIN) - The deadly Ebola haemorrhagic fever that has ravaged the northern Cuvette-Ouest region of the Republic of Congo since April is now under control, UN World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

"On 17 June, the last people [who came into contact with infected persons] will be removed from the monitoring list. The epidemic will be regarded as epidemiologically over," WHO said in a statement issued in Brazzaville, the nation's capital.

However, WHO clarified that "the official declaration of the end of the epidemic will come only at the end of 21 days, on 8 July."

The most recent epidemic was declared on 27 April for a forested area of the Cuvette-Ouest region that borders Gabon. WHO confirmed the finding a month later. Since the start of the outbreak, the virus has killed 10 people in Cuvette-Ouest: nine in the locality of Etoumbi and one in Mbomo.

WHO says the Ebola virus was first identified in a western equatorial province of Sudan and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 1976, after significant epidemics in Yambuku, northern DRC, and Nzara, southern Sudan. The agency describes Ebola as "one of the most virulent viral diseases known to humankind, causing death in 50 percent to 90 percent of all clinically ill cases."

The Ebola virus is transmitted by direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected persons. Transmission has also occurred by handling ill or dead chimpanzees infected with the virus.

Over the last few days, carcasses of dead animals have been found in the forest in ROC's Etoumbi zone. Animal samples sent to the International Medical Research Centre in Franceville, Gabon, for analyses have tested positive for Ebola.

This means that another outbreak is possible if hunters in the forest touch dead primates. To head off another epidemic, government public health officials have mounted a door-to-door awareness campaign in Etoumbi. An adviser to the ministry of health, Jean-Vivien Mombouli, said that the short duration of this latest outbreak, the fourth, was a result of previous awareness campaigns.

"We are looking for new tools with which to fight Ebola which, in the long term, will make the disease banal," he said.

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