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Ebola Patient Dies in Congo - 2001-12-27

The World Health Organization, WHO, reports another person infected with the Ebola virus in central Africa has died, bringing the death toll from the latest outbreak of the disease to 18. There are also nine other confirmed cases of the disease in Gabon and in neighboring Republic of the Congo.

The World Health Organization reported the latest death occurred in the Republic of Congo, which borders Gabon, the country where the Ebola outbreak was detected early this month.

WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said Thursday the number of cases of Ebola is not increasing, though, as expected, the number of deaths are. He said all the confirmed cases are from the same area of Gabon where the original infection was discovered.

Mr. Hartl said an international team of experts has tracked down more than 200 people who had contacts with the infected and that these people are being monitored in isolation units to limit the chance they will infect other people. The WHO official said they will also receive medical attention. "We can take better care of them because at the first onset of symptoms, such as sweating, diarrhea, fever, we need to be able to start re-hydrating these people, giving them liquids, giving them the kind of hospital setting support which is the only means known for saving people from Ebola," Mr. Hartl said.

The Ebola virus is highly contagious. It is passed through contact with bodily fluids, but is not airborne. While there is no cure, chances of survival increase if the victims are treated in the early stages of the disease.

Mr. Hartl said no one knows the source of the current outbreak. But he said some people believe it started from the eating of infected primates. He said local authorities are cautioning people not to eat meat from sick animals and not to touch someone who has died of an infection or a sweating disease. "Do not touch the dead relative," he warned. "Do not, unfortunately, conduct what is often times a very common and ingrained cultural practice, which is to wash the body as a sign of respect and as a sign of passing away because that is classically a way in which Ebola can infect an entire family grouping."

Mr. Hartl said people who believe they may have had contact with an infected person should immediately go to a hospital for observation and should not touch anyone else. Congolese and Gabonese authorities are restricting movement in the region of the outbreak in an attempt to contain the disease.