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Plague Outbreak in Eastern Congo

Broadcast: March 2, 2005

I’m Gwen Outen the VOA Special English Health Report.

Plague is an ancient disease that can be treated now with antibacterial medicines. In fact, the World Health Organization says people are usually cured if treated quickly.

The W.H.O. had reports of more than two thousand cases of plague in nine countries in two thousand three. Almost all were in Africa. One hundred eighty-two people died.

Recently, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, there have been cases of a rare form of plague. Reports say at least sixty-one workers at a diamond mine in northeastern Congo have died of pneumonic plague. Other cases have been found in the area around the mine.

The total number of cases is not known, but an outbreak of this size is described as unusual. It began in December. Officials say it took about two months to identify the disease.

The mine employed seven thousand people in Zobia, in Oriental province. Miners left the town and fled into the forest. Medical teams have gone to look for victims of the outbreak.

There are three forms of plague. Bubonic plague is the most common. Bubonic plague killed millions of Europeans in the Middle Ages. It is passed between animals and people by the bite of infected fleas or by handling an infected animal. It causes high body temperature and painful swelling of the lymph glands.

Septicemic plague is when the infection spreads directly through the blood system.

Pneumonic plague is the least common but most aggressive form. It mainly attacks the lungs. It can be spread by flea bites. But it can also spread through the air through such things as coughing or sneezing.

Signs such as high temperature, chills, pain, weakness and vomiting usually appear within a week. Without treatment, death can happen quickly.

Alain Decoux is head of operations in the D.R.C. for the international aid group Doctors Without Borders. He says there is a high level of insecurity around Zobia because it is a diamond producing area. He says recent clashes in the area caused the population to flee widely.

Just last week, attackers killed nine United Nations peacekeepers from Bangladesh in Ituri province in eastern Congo. Congo had war from nineteen ninety-eight to two thousand two. Even now the International Rescue Committee says one thousand people a day die from hunger and disease.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Cynthia Kirk. I’m Gwen Outen.