The United Nations says 17 people have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from a virus with symptoms that resemble those of the deadly disease, Ebola. U.N. officials say the illness has also struck seven people in Gabon.
Gabon's Health Minister, Faustin Boukoubi, warns that the health situation in his country is getting worse as a result of the outbreak of the illness. Troops have accompanied a medical team to the village of Mekambo, 600 kilometers east of the Gabonese capital, Libreville.
Health experts in Gabon fear the deaths are due to an outbreak of Ebola, which killed 95 people in the same province in three separate outbreaks between 1994 and 1997. The most recent major outbreak of Ebola - in Uganda last year - killed more than 100 people.
Unconfirmed reports that large primates, known to be susceptible to Ebola, have died of a mysterious illness near the same village have only added to the fears.
Six inhabitants of Mekambo, where the population is mostly pygmy, died between November 16 and December 2. The seventh victim was a nurse at the village health center. Two victims suffering from fever, diarrhea and vomiting, crossed the border to nearby Congo-Brazzaville.
Meanwhile, in the DRC, epidemiologists from the Congolese health ministry and international agencies have traveled to Kasai province, east of the capital, Kinshasa, to investigate further, and to establish how many people have been infected. Health officials report that 30 people in Kasai have shown symptoms similar to Ebola over the last few weeks.
Seventy percent of victims of Ebola bleed to death within days. There is no known cure or vaccine for the virus, named after a river in the Congo when it was discovered 25 years ago.
Congo's last major Ebola outbreak in the town of Kikwit - also in the western Kasai province - killed 245 people.