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Children hit hardest by Marburg virus

By Kun Li

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LUANDA, Angola, 28 March 2005 - As of today there have been 116 confirmed cases of Marburg virus infection in Angola, with 99 of them involving children under 15, according to the latest figures from UNICEF.

The illness was first spotted in Angola's northern Uige province. Initial symptoms include high fever, severe headaches, vomiting and diarrhoea, which can lead to massive internal bleeding and death. The Marburg virus is from the same family of viruses as the deadly Ebola virus.

The majority of cases are from Uige, close to the Democratic Republic of Congo. UNICEF believes that another 4 cases which were found in the capital, Luanda, were people who came from Uige in search of treatment for the illness. There have already been 103 deaths in Uige, and another 2 in Luanda.

Commenting on the situation, UNICEF’s Representative for Angola, Mario Ferrari, said: “Marburg virus is very contagious, and the mortality rate of the illness is as high as 30 to 35 per cent. Marburg virus is not widely known, and there were very few epidemics in the world so far. The spread and dimension of the epidemic in Angola is something quite new.”

Marburg virus is not transmitted by air, but instead by organic fluid, such as saliva, mucus, and sweat, said Mr. Ferrari.

Containing the outbreak

The epidemic in Angola has drawn wide attention from international epidemiologists, who are not only working with the government to contain the disease, but also trying to determine why so many children have been infected.

UNICEF is supporting WHO and the Angolan Ministry of Health in efforts to prevent the spread of an epidemic. “In fact one way to stop the spread of the disease is to provide better treatment for people in Uige, so that the carriers wouldn’t move around the country, thereby further spreading the virus,” said Mr. Ferrari.

UNICEF has also put together a communication and mobilization campaign, aimed at informing the population across the country about what they should do to avoid becoming ill. Radio messages focusing on basic hygiene have been broadcast across Uige province. The campaign also educates people to avoid direct human contact with those exhibiting symptoms of the virus.

In addition, some 600 health activists have been trained and given much-needed materials to conduct house-to-house visits, to help ensure the information reaches the more isolated areas.

“The management of the hospital in Uige has been taken over by international experts who have a lot of experience with Ebola,” said UNICEF Communication Officer Macarena Aguilar. “That’s very encouraging and making us believe the situation in Uige, for the time being, could be under control. The difficulty is to contain people from going to other provinces. Overall, the response has been very coordinated and timely,” said Ms. Aguilar.




28 March 2005:
UNICEF Representative for Angola Mario Ferrari describes the Marburg virus and why it is so deadly.


28 March 2005:
UNICEF Communication Officer for Angola Macarena Aguilar describes the organization’s activities to fight the spread of the epidemic.
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