The World Health Organization says it is investigating what appears to be an epidemic of acute hemorrhagic fever syndrome in northern Angola. The disease, so far, has claimed at least 39 lives.

The World Health Organization says it only recently learned of this outbreak which has been ongoing since January. WHO Spokeswoman, Fadela Chaib, says the disease is centered in Uige Province in northern Angola.

She says health workers are baffled by the origin of the disease and suspect it may be an acute hemorrhagic fever. But, she adds there are some puzzling aspects which cast doubt on this view.

"We are a little bit concerned because these 39 deaths are mainly children under the age of five," Ms. Chaib explained. "Usually, when you have an hemorrhagic fever, it does not matter whether you are an adult or a child."

Ms. Chaib says the World Health Organization has experts in Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo and in Angola who are following this situation closely.

"The national authorities in Angola are leading the investigation and they have taken samples to be sent to laboratories in order to determine what this disease is in fact - if it is Ebola or something else," she explained. "The symptoms of the fever are high fever, bleeding and vomiting. It is not really typical, as I said because it is children who are the most affected."

The WHO spokeswoman says acute hemorrhagic fever and ebola are both very contagious diseases. As a precautionary measure, she says WHO has alerted members of its rapid response network in Africa to the potential dangers. She says supplies of protective equipment for the investigation and management of suspected cases are being sent to the affected area.

Ms. Chaib says WHO hopes to have results from the analysis of the samples within a week.