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Ebola virus kills 13 in Gabon

February 20, 1996
Web posted at: 12:30 a.m. EST (0530 GMT)

Ebola Virus GENEVA, Switzerland (CNN) -- Health experts believe they have identified the source of a deadly outbreak of Ebola which has killed 13 people in the West African nation of Gabon.

Nineteen men from the remote village of Mayibout are believed to have contracted the virus from a dead chimpanzee which they found and brought back to their village for food, David Heymann of the World Heath Organization told CNN Monday. (326K AIFF sound or 326K WAV sound)

In addition to those it killed, the virus has infected at least seven other people in Gabon, a country of 1.2 million on the west coast of Africa.

Gabon Map So far, all the victims are from Mayibout, a village of 150 inhabitants on the Ivindo River, 200 miles east of the capital, Libreville. In two neighboring villages, seven more people with fevers are suspected Ebola cases.

Health experts are concerned the virus may spread through those who came in contact with the men who found the chimpanzee. There are already concerns the disease may have spread to Makokou, capital of Ogooue-Ivindo province, about 100 miles away, where the sick were hospitalized, he said.

One of the deadliest viruses known to man, Ebola causes internal and external bleeding. It is spread through bodily fluids and kills up to 80 percent of those infected. There is no treatment and no cure for the disease.

The outbreak in Gabon is the third time the disease has struck the African continent in a year. In Zaire last spring, it infected 316 people and killed 245. A single case of Ebola was confirmed in the Ivory Coast in December.

"As far as we know, the outbreak is not spreading rapidly," Heymann said. "The government has reacted very rapidly, has notified the WHO and has at the same time begun procedures to insure the disease does not spread." (137K AIFF sound or 137K WAV sound)

People in Gabon are being warned not to touch dead or sick animals in the forest, to cover hands when attending to the sick or the dead and to avoid any contact with a sick person's blood.

The Gabonese government has launched a public information campaign to advise the population on how to protect themselves from the disease.

The government is also getting help from WHO which is trying to identify people who have the virus and isolate them," said WHO spokesman Valery Abramov.

"The trouble is, we don't know how many people were involved in bringing the infected men to Makokou, we don't know how many returned to the village or the whereabouts of the others," he said.

Others at risk are the medical staff at the hospital that treated those were infected with the virus. Although WHO described hygiene at the hospital as decent, the staff was not at first aware of "just what they were dealing with" and may have become infected, Abramov said.

Scientists have learned more about the Ebola virus since the outbreak in Zaire.

"With each outbreak, we know a little bit more," said Heymann. "This virus is spread a lot like another virus-- Hepatitis B which is spread through mainly contact with blood. We also know that the virus does attack chimpanzees and kills chimpanzees as well as in humans. But we still don't know where the virus hides in nature."

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