Sunday 15 December 1996

The deadly ebola virus has struck again. It has already claimed 16 lives in Gabon and going by the widespread cases of haemmorhagic fever in the region, the World Health Organization has declared it an epidemic. Of the 18 confirmed cases reported in the first week of the outbreak, 11 had died -- an unprecedented death rate of 61 per cent in the early stages.

Surveillance teams have identified around 94 people who were in close contact with the patients and 55 more are being watched for being at risk of contracting the virus. The ebola virus spreads quickly through body fluids such as saliva and urine and through blood transfusion.

This time around, health authorities have geared up to handle the epidemic and prevent a repeat of last year's calamity, when ebola had wreaked havoc in Zaire and other African countries. Besides intense surveillance, an information campaign is on to educate health workers in the affected regions. The National Committee for Control of Emerging Dis-eases at Liberville is monitoring the operations.

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