- The World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed the deaths of 39 persons in Angola's northern province of Uige due to an unknown disease during the last three months. The UN agency however was suspecting some sort of "acute haemorrhagic fever syndrome", a group of diseases to which Ebola belongs.
The WHO today issued a statement regarding a "suspected outbreak" of acute haemorrhagic fever syndrome in northern Angola. "From January to 15 March 2005, 39 deaths of suspected acute haemorrhagic fever syndrome have been reported to WHO from Uige Province in northern Angola," the UN agency confirmed.
A task force had been put in place at the national level and laboratory samples had been collected for analysis. The WHO country office was supporting Angola's Ministry of Health in the investigations into the mysterious disease. "Active surveillance and retrospective analysis" was now "in place," WHO said.
The WHO Regional Office for Africa (AFRO) had further alerted members of the AFRO rapid response network and staff from the AFRO Inter-country Programme for Southern Africa were "planning to bring supplies of protective equipment for the investigation and management of suspected cases."
Vice-Governor Mendes Domingos of the Uige Province told the Catholic broadcaster 'Radio Ecclesia' that local authorities had halted a refugee repatriation programme, which is currently organised by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. The governor ordered repatriation flights from neighbouring Congo Kinshasa (DRC) to be suspended because of the current outbreak.
The large-scale operation already put in place by the Angolan government and regional WHO offices indicate that a dangerous outbreak is suspected. The symptoms of the disease include fever, severe coughing and vomiting, causing the WHO to suspect the outbreak of a haemorrhagic fever.
The most feared haemorrhagic fever, which breaks out frequently in the region, is Ebola. Uige province is located at the border with Congo Kinshasa and parts of the province have a rainforest climate. Most Ebola outbreaks occur somewhat north of Angola, in Congo Brazzaville and Gabon, and are defined to rainforest regions with consumption of bushmeat, in particular apes.
The WHO however yet has shied away the word "Ebola", as there are several types of haemorrhagic fevers, which are mostly less dramatic than Ebola. Further, there are no known Ebola outbreaks in Angola to date. The UN health agency usually has spoken of "a possible Ebola outbreak" at similar occasions in Congo and Gabon, before tests have verified the outbreak. The WHO therefore seems to suspect there is another virus causing the outbreak in Uige.
The possible haemorrhagic fever outbreak in northern Angola further is different from recent Ebola outbreaks by its apparent slow spread. The still unidentified illness has caused deaths since January. An Ebola outbreak - as the last ones observed in Congo and Gabon - usually spreads much faster and would have caused more victims by now. There are however several strains of Ebola, some being less contagious.
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