Africa Fever Outbreaks Produce Different Results

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In Depth

The World Health Organization says an outbreak of Ebola in Africa is under control after only a few weeks. But 500 miles to the south, a related virus, Marburg hemorrhagic fever, is still spreading months after it began.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

The World Health Organization has confirmed that deadly Ebola fever has broken out in the Republic of Congo. But health authorities are far more worried about another continuing epidemic 500 miles south in Angola. It's caused by the Marburg virus, a cousin of Ebola. NPR's Richard Knox explains the difference.

RICHARD KNOX reporting:

WHO has been working for 10 days to determine if the outbreak in the Congo is indeed Ebola. Now Dr. Amadou Yada of the WHO says it seems to be over. Yada spoke today by cell phone from Mitumba, deep in the Congolese rain forest.

Dr. AMADOU YADA (World Health Organization): The outbreak is under control. We need to be very prudent and vigilant, following all the contacts every day.

KNOX: Yada says health workers are still watching 65 people because they had close contact with the 11 known victims of Ebola; nine of them have died.

This is the third Ebola epidemic in that remote region of the Congo in the past four years. Yada says that's one reason why this epidemic is coming under control so fast; people have learned that Ebola is caused by a viral infection. Yada says that's clear from their reaction when a man with suspected Ebola appeared in one village and asked to stay.

Dr. YADA: They said, `No, you cannot stay in the town. We don't want to be again infected by Ebola.'

Dr. PIERRE FORMENTY (World Health Organization): They really believe that the disease is transmitted and it's not sorcery.

KNOX: Dr. Pierre Formenty is the WHO's chief expert on Ebola and Marburg, a closely related virus. He says the situation is very different in Uige, a city in northern Angola. Marburg virus has bedeviled Uige for many months now; the death toll has topped 330, with no end in sight. Formenty says most people in Uige don't believe in the viruses. They think Marburg is witchcraft.

Dr. FORMENTY: So that's the big issue in Uige--is explaining to the people that the infection is transmitted through contact, it's transmitted through reuse syringe and needles, it's transmitted through contact with dead bodies.

KNOX: Formenty says traditional healers in Uige often use dirty needles to inject magic elixirs against Marburg, and that may be the reason why 16 new cases have emerged in the past two weeks that health workers can't link to any known case. Richard Knox, NPR News.

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