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Ebola Outbreak in Southern Sudan Over WHO Says - 2004-08-07

The World Health Organization says an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in southern Sudan is over. WHO says the disease, which was first reported in Yambio County in Sudan's Equatoria province in May, infected 17 people, of whom seven died.

The World Health Organization says Saturday marks 42 days since the last person identified as infected with Ebola died in the region. As the agency explains, the incubation period for the disease is 21 days and the outbreak is considered over when no new cases have been reported for twice that period of time.

WHO spokeswoman Maria Cheng says the agency and its partners were able to detect this outbreak very quickly because southern Sudan has an effective early warning network in place. Also, the particular strain of this virus was less virulent than in the past.

She also says the number of cases and deaths is relatively low because of the speed with which the virus was identified. This allowed health workers to respond quickly.

"We try to identify cases as quickly as we can and determine if they need to be isolated, and then there is a lot of contact tracing to see who the people might have been in contact with and patients are basically given treatment to alleviate their symptoms," she noted.

Ebola is one of the deadliest diseases in the world. The virus is spread through bodily fluids, including blood. There is no known cure, it is highly contagious and it kills between 50 percent and 90 percent of its victims.

Ebola first emerged in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, then known as Zaire. It re-emerged in 1995. Since 2000, Ms. Cheng says, there have been six outbreaks, including this latest one.

"We are seeing it with increasing regularity," she added. "I think what we've learned from this experience and from the last five years is the importance of detecting it rapidly and mobilizing international and local responses as quickly as we can."

The WHO spokeswoman says scientists still have not identified the root cause of the disease, but they believe it may be transmitted through contact with infected animals.

"So part of what the team did this time in Yambio was to speak with the local population, particularly with hunters, to warn them of the dangers of finding diseased or dead animals in the forest, to not touch these animals and certainly not to eat them," she said.

Ms. Cheng says the team was successful in containing the disease because it had a lot of cooperation and involvement from the local community.