Angola Struggles to Contain Viral Outbreak****
By CASIMIRO SIONA Associated Press Writer
**LUANDA, Angola Apr 12, 2005 **— Disease experts struggling to contain the largest recorded outbreak of the Marburg virus said Tuesday it will take weeks to determine whether a long-term crisis can be averted in Angola, where the disease already has killed at least 194 people.
The experts say they are recruiting tribal elders and musicians to help educate villagers who are hiding infected family members and have attacked aid groups sent to check the virus’ spread in this southwest African nation.
The World Health Organization, which already has 50 experts in the field helping local authorities, is bolstering its team by flying in more specialists.
The medical aid group Doctors Without Borders also has a heavy presence on the ground, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has sent experts to Uige province in northern Angola.
Marburg hemorrhagic fever is a rare but deadly disease caused by a virus from the same family as the one that causes Ebola hemorrhagic fever. It spreads through contact with bodily fluids and can kill rapidly, usually about nine days after the first symptoms.
The Angola outbreak involves 214 known cases so far. The focus is on detecting infections early, isolating those infected, training local hospitals on infection control and removing dead bodies, which can spread the disease, said WHO spokeswoman Maria Cheng.
Neighboring countries have been advised by WHO, the U.N. health agency, to step up surveillance efforts because some of the affected areas in Angola are close to borders, she added.
“The next couple of weeks are crucial,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO’s top outbreak specialist.
Deputy Health Minister Jose Van Dunem said Tuesday the death toll climbed to 203. Almost all the deaths have occurred in Uige, where the outbreak began six months ago.
However, in Geneva, the WHO put the toll at 194. There often is a lag between a country announcing its figures to the public and reporting them to the WHO.
Fear of the disease is rife in Angola. Panicked locals are hiding infected family members, fearing they might never see them again if they are taken to isolation units, said Doctors Without Borders emergency coordinator Monica de Castellarnau.