May 16, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – Nine people have died in the Republic of Congo from a hemorrhagic disease that authorities are describing as "Ebola-like," and at least another 52 people who had contact with the victims are being monitored, according to news reports today.
The prelude to the cluster of deaths follows a plot that could be lifted from past Ebola outbreaks. A hunting party from Itoumbi and Mbomo districts, several hundred kilometers north of Brazzaville, the capital, encountered a dead monkey and ate it, according to Alphonse Gando, the Congo Republic's minister of health, as reported by Agence France-Presse (AFP) on May 12.
Ebola is a highly contagious filovirus that can cause a gruesome death following hemorrhaging and is lethal in 50% to 90% of cases. Although there is no treatment and little is understood about its animal reservoir, contact with primates has been known to precipitate human outbreaks. The Congo Republic and neighboring Gabon have had several Ebola outbreaks, which have killed about 360 people since 1994, AFP reported.
"We don't have lab confirmation yet, but it has all the features of an Ebola outbreak," said Dick Thompson, a World Health Organization spokesman, as quoted in a New York Times story today.
Congo Republic health officials have moved quickly since the outbreak began in late April to investigate and stop the spread of the disease, according to the Times. This may indicate the country is learning how to cope with such outbreaks, Thompson told the newspaper.
In nearby Angola, authorities are still struggling with the deadliest known outbreak of a similar hemorrhagic disease caused by the Marburg virus. New cases were still being reported, Reuters news service reported today, despite repeated announcements from local authorities that the outbreak was coming under control.
"The outbreak is not over," Aphaluck Bhatiasevi of the WHO told Reuters. The death toll stood at 292, with 336 known cases, Reuters reported. WHO numbers reported May 11 were lower: 316 known cases and 276 deaths.
Authorities seemed most concerned about the appearance of apparently unrelated cases. "We've seen new cases in new municipalities that don't have obvious links to earlier cases of Marburg," Bhatiasevi said. "We are trying to do as much tracing as possible."
Preventing the spread of Marburg as a byproduct of certain traditional practices, particularly cleaning the dead before burial, continues to be a challenge for healthcare workers, Jose Van Dunem, a deputy health minister, told Reuters. Six traditional healers have died, but others are beginning to change their habits, he added.
May 13 WHO statement on Congo Republic outbreak
May 11 WHO statement on Marburg outbreak in Angola