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DEVELOPMENT REPORT – April 1, 2002: Ebola in Africa - 2002-03-29

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

The World Health Organization reports fifty-four people have died of the Ebola virus in central Africa during the last two months. The deaths have been in Gabon and the Republic of Congo.

The Ebola virus began spreading after victims were discovered in areas in northeastern Gabon in November. It is the third time Ebola has spread through Gabon since Nineteen-Ninety-Four. Health officials believe people moving across the border spread the disease from Gabon to Congo.

Ebola is highly infectious and kills up to eighty percent of its victims. Researchers do not know the method by which the virus first appears in humans, but they believe it is through infected animals. The disease then spreads from person to person through blood and other body liquids.

Ebola victims treated early have the best chance of survival. Signs of Ebola include a high temperature, diarrhea, muscle pains and bleeding inside the body. In severe cases, victims experience chest pains and death. There is no known cure for the disease, and no way yet to prevent it.

Scientists at the American National Institutes of Health are working to develop a vaccine to prevent Ebola. Doctor Gary Nabel is leading the research effort at the N-I-H testing center in the eastern state of Maryland. He says that during the past two years, the vaccine has been tested on small animals and monkeys for safety and effectiveness.

In the most recent study, four monkeys who had been given the vaccine were completely protected from a deadly injection of the Ebola virus. The study was described in November in Nature magazine. Doctor Nabel says the tests appear to have moved scientists one step closer to a vaccine for humans.

The development of an effective vaccine is very important for central Africa. Earlier this year, an international team of medical experts left northeastern Gabon after receiving threats from the local community.

The World Health Organization says the medical experts have not yet returned because local officials are not able to guarantee their safety. This has made efforts to contain Ebola more difficult. The W-H-O can not declare this latest spread of Ebola finished until two separate, twenty-one day periods pass without a new case of the disease being reported.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss.