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Marburg Disease Continues To Spread In Angola


The death toll in Angola from Marburg hemorrhagic fever has topped 200, and fatalities continue to rise. Marburg hemorrhagic fever is a severe and highly fatal disease caused by a virus from the same family as the one that causes Ebola hemorrhagic fever. The current outbreak appears to have spread through a hospital ward in Uige, north of Luanda. David Daigle, the World Health Organization representative in Ugie, says that more than a dozen health care workers have perished so far from the disease, including two doctors. Mr. Daigle says residents in Uige are frightened and confused. Some are refusing to allow their sick relatives to be taken to an isolation unit set up at the hospital, fearing it leads to death.

"WHO has a global outbreak and alert and response network team here about twenty people and the Doctors Without Borders are here as well and they are working very hard. Earlier you are alluded to troubles with the people and we have been working very hard to educate the people because there is a great fear of terror," he says. "Your child is sick one day and then the next day your child dies and then these people come in white gowns and face masks and gloves and boots and so there has been a lot of fear in the community that we are trying to educate the people of what we are doing and why we are doing it."

What about the disease in other parts of Angola? Doctors Without Borders representative in Angola, Alois Hug, says for now the town of Uiege is the main focus of attention. "We are concentrating on Uige because obviously it is here that ninety percent of the cases were recorded in Uige and mostly in the city of Uige and there were a few cases in Rwanda and also in other provinces around Uige," he says. "So the main thing in Uige is we also have Doctors Without Borders here and in other cities of the province of Uige."

Marburg is a very toxic virus, even worse than Ebola. WHO's David Daigle says so far, every person who has contracted the Virus has died. There is no vaccine, and isolation is the only way to contain the epidemic. "You must break the transmission cycle so everybody who is sick must be taken to the isolation ward and anybody who has died must be handled by those in protective equipment and quickly buried so that nobody else can get sick from that body."

Mr. Daigle describes how people become infected and what the symptoms are. "What happens is that the disease transferred by contact with bodily fluids of someone who is sick and someone who has symptoms would first have a high fever, would have muscle aches and pains, chills, nausea and then this would be followed by hemorrhagic signs and then usually death afterwards."

With its rutted dirt roads, overcrowded townships, remote villages and countryside littered with land mines from decades of conflict, the task of containing the Marburg Virus in Angola is especially daunting. Alois Hug from Doctors Without Borders says restoring the confidence of the townspeople is paramount. "The real issue right now is to gain the confidence of the people and to find a way to make them understand the risk of the disease and the spread of the disease and maintain the sick person in the community. In the last few days we can see that there were not so many cases recorded, but maybe as you said before there are some cases that are still around so it is difficult to have an accurate view of the situation."

World Health Organization officials say Marburg hemorrhagic fever so far appears confined to Angola, but they have recommended that four bordering countries keep a close lookout for cases of the virus.

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