KINSHASA, 22 January (IRIN) - Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) Health Minister Mashako Mamba told IRIN on Tuesday that "more than" 2,000 people had died as the result of an influenza epidemic that had been sweeping across parts of the country for one-and-a-half months.
He said officials had also registered another 500,000 cases of people infected by the virus, which had spread from the Central African Republic, along the Ubangi and Congo rivers before reaching the DRC capital, Kinshasa, in December 2002.
"There are many more people infected by this virulent form of influenza in Kinshasa, but more deaths have been registered in the provinces because of the collapse of the health services due to the war," he said.
Affected areas are Thuapa, in the south of Equateur Province, and Inongo, near Lake Mai-Ndombe, in the north of Bandundu Province.
He said malnutrition and vitamin A deficiency were also factors accounting for the high mortality rate in the provinces, where 60 percent to 80 percent of children and adults were malnourished in the districts of Nord Ubangi and Bosobolo, the two zones where the first cases of influenza were recorded. "By contrast, in Kinshasa, 60 percent of the population have a high vitamin A count, which protects their respiratory system and their blood," he said.
He said the health situation had been aggravated because most doctors had fled fighting in the northwest of the country. Those who remained had sometimes walked more than 100 km to care for the sick. "Overall, the number of registered deaths in Equateur and Inong, has surpassed 2,000 of the 100,000 persons affected," he said.
Influenza symptoms are fever, headaches, fatigue, coughs, a sore throat and nasal secretions.
"Samples taken from victims in Equateur and sent to laboratories confirm type A influenza, which means that it was the cause of the epidemic and could affect large areas of the country or continent, unlike types B and C, which are benign," he said.
In October and December 2002, the same epidemic killed 500 people in the locality of Bosobolo, 50 km southwest of Gbadolite, in Equateur Province.
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