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Congo Ebola Epidemic Not Slowing, says Red Cross - 2003-04-08

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says the Ebola epidemic in the northwestern Republic of Congo shows no signs of slowing. The Red Cross says this epidemic is particularly virulent and that, so far, it has killed 120 people in the 135 cases that have been reported.

The Red Cross said it fears the death toll could be higher than the number reported. Red Cross consultant Didier Revol has just returned from Kelle and Mbomo, the two districts in the Republic of Congo affected by the Ebola epidemic.

Mr. Revol said most of Kelle's population of 5,000 fled into the forest at the height of the epidemic in mid-February. He said he is afraid that many of those hiding in the forest are at risk of contracting the fatal disease.

"What we fear actually, as you have to survive in the forest, you have to eat what you eat when you are in the forest. When you come from a traditional hunting society, you eat monkeys," he said. "And, the Ebola epidemic just started beginning of January when three hunters came back from the forest where they found a dead animal, a chimpanzee, and ate the chimpanzee. And that is the way the epidemic started."

Mr. Revol said about one-third of those who fled to the forest in February have returned to Kelle. But he said this is potentially very dangerous because these people do not know how the disease is contracted and transmitted.

He said 19 locally recruited Red Cross volunteers are working to inform the population about the dangers of Ebola and how they can protect themselves. "But, the volunteers have to fight against a lot of ancestral beliefs. Witchcraft is very, very present in this area of Africa. And this is really for volunteers a tremendous task, a very difficult one, because they do not get any kind of recognition from the population," Mr. Revol said.

Ebola is a highly contagious disease that is spread through blood and body fluids. There is no known cure and no effective treatment. Experts say the best way to halt its spread is through prevention, prompt detection, and isolation of suspected cases.