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Ebola Outbreak in Gabon has Likely Peaked, Says WHO - 2001-12-21

The World Health Organization says it believes an outbreak of the deadly Ebola disease in the West African country of Gabon may have peaked. The WHO confirms a total of 27 Ebola cases. Fifteen people have died. The WHO says that Ebola has spread into the neighboring Republic of Congo.

The World Health Organization says there has not been a new outbreak of Ebola in Congo-Brazzaville. It says the cases identified in the Congo are part of the same group of people who were originally identified in Gabon as carrying the disease. The bulk of the cases are in Gabon.

WHO spokesman, Ian Simpson says people wander from one country to another. "We are treating this as a single outbreak," he said. "Our understanding is that it began in Gabon and has spread across the border. As I indicated, it began in an area of Gabon that is very close to the border and, therefore, people moving a couple of kilometers would take it into another country."

Ebola is highly contagious. It is spread through blood and other bodily fluids, but not through the air.

Two isolation facilities have been set up in Gabon to treat people infected with Ebola and another isolation unit is planned for the Congo. Mr. Simpson says international experts are tracing and monitoring 227 people who may have had contact with any of the Ebola victims. "If you drew a graph of the numbers that we have revealed," he said, "it looks as though it is sharply going up. We do not believe that that is happening. We believe that this outbreak is at its peak. We have identified all the contacts of people who have been infected. They are now being monitored and any sign of sickness is being investigated."

There is no cure for Ebola. But, the WHO says people who get rehydration treatment quickly have a good chance of survival.

Over 800 people have died of the disease, since the virus was first identified in 1976 in western Sudan and in a nearby region of Congo. This is Gabon's third outbreak of Ebola since 1994.