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Experts Study Gabon Ebola Outbreak - 2001-12-17

A team of 14 experts from the World Health Organization and Gabonese health workers are trying to trace cases of the Ebola virus, following an outbreak that has killed at least 12 people in northeastern Gabon.

The joint team of Gabonese and international experts is working to isolate the area of the remote Mekambo district where the outbreak occurred.

The Gabonese health ministry says at least 12 people have died from the disease. Officials say there have been a total of 15 suspected cases.

Part of the team's job is to trace those who have contracted the disease. Finding and monitoring those who are infected is part of the effort to keep the disease from spreading. The team is also working on educating local residents on how to prevent infection.

Isolating the outbreak is turning out to be difficult. While team members are working to seal off the areas where Ebola has occurred, they are not able to prevent villagers from traveling.

Officials have expressed concern that the disease may spread outside Gabon. The latest outbreak occurred near the country's border with the Republic of Congo, a border that many people often cross without inspection.

The United States government has called for Americans to avoid the area of the outbreak.

Ebola is transmitted through blood and other bodily fluids. The virus kills as many as 70 percent of those who become infected. There are no vaccines or anti-viral medications available to treat the disease.

The first line of defense for health experts working in Gabon is educating local residents on how to avoid becoming infected. Local officials are advising people not to eat meat from hunted animals and to avoid contact with corpses of Ebola victims.