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WHO Hopeful Marburg Fever Epidemic in Angola May be Ending

The World Health Organization (WHO) says an epidemic of the deadly Marburg virus in Angola may be in its final stages. The UN agency says the disease has killed 356 of the 422 people infected in the Angola outbreak.

The World Health Organization reports, the most recent case of Marburg hemhorragic fever was confirmed on June 12. Another probable case is awaiting confirmation in the laboratory.

WHO Spokesman Ian Simpson says, even if this case is confirmed to be Marburg, the good news is that it is the only probable case, which has been detected in nearly two weeks. He says it seems the outbreak may be coming to an end.

"The epidemic would be declared over after two maximum periods of transmission,” he said. “The maximum period that we know of for transmission of Marburg fever is 21 days. In other words, the maximum possible time between somebody having contact with a person who is sick and developing the illness themselves is 21 days. For safety, and to ensure absolutely that the outbreak is over, we always leave twice that length of time. So, that would be 42 days between the last case being identified and the outbreak being declared over."

The outbreak of Marburg hemorrhagic fever has been raging in Angola's remote northern province of Uige since January. But, the World Health Organization did not learn about it until March.

Marburg fever is a severe and highly fatal disease caused by a virus from the same family as the deadly Ebola virus. Infection results from contact with blood or other bodily fluids. There is no known cure. Transmission requires extremely close contact with someone who is infected. Death occurs between eight and nine days after the onset of symptoms.

Much of the efforts of foreign health workers who went to the region to help contain the spread of the virus have been focused on training local health care workers to educate the public about prevention.

Mr. Simpson says WHO now is trying to train local doctors, nurses and other health care workers in Angola to manage future outbreaks of the disease themselves, without relying on international experts.

"There are two key areas,” he added. “One is to build up their ability to test and diagnose Marburg Fever, which involves training people on laboratory testing, building up the capacity of local laboratories to do that testing. The other is epidemiology, which is essentially disease detection work, so that people learn how to follow an outbreak, how to find where it's comes from, how to find possible contacts and cases, and how to follow those people to make sure that the disease is not spread from person to person."

Mr. Simpson says the outbreak of Marburg fever in Angola is the biggest ever seen anywhere in the world. It surpasses the previous total number of 148 cases recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1998 and 2000.