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Ebola suspected in nine deaths in Congo Republic

Possible outbreak probed in region prone to disease

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BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo (Reuters) -- Nine people have died in a suspected outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in a remote forest region of the Congo Republic where 120 people died of the disease earlier this year, officials said Friday.

Republic of Congo
World Health Organization (WHO)

Health Minister Alain Moka said the disease appeared to have broken out again near Mbomo, about 440 miles (700 kilometers) north of the central African nation's capital, Brazzaville, and just across the border from Gabon, in a region known as Cuvette-Ouest.

"We just had a meeting about the resurgence of the Ebola virus in Cuvette-Ouest," he told reporters in Brazzaville.

There is no known cure for Ebola, which is passed by infected body fluids and kills between 50 and 90 percent of its victims, depending on the strain. The disease damages the blood vessels and can cause bleeding, diarrhea and shock.

"A group of hunters went into the forest and in spite of the advice given, they collected the meat of a dead boar ... Nine of them died. The only survivor is a young schoolboy who refused to touch the game," Moka said.

Scientists believe the last Ebola outbreak in the Cuvette-Ouest region was caused by the consumption of infected monkey meat. So-called bushmeat is a staple among forest communities and a delicacy in many cities.

The minister said he did not have biological proof that the cause of death was Ebola.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said Friday that 12 suspected cases of acute hemorrhagic fever syndrome, including nine deaths, had been reported in Mbomo. Ebola is a type of hemorrhagic fever.

It said in a statement that Ministry of Health teams were on the ground to collect samples for diagnosis.

Ebola also killed 73 people in Gabon and Congo from October 2001 to February 2002.

The disease is named after a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire, where it was discovered in 1976. The worst outbreak was in that country in 1995, when more than 250 died.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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