BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of the Congo, Feb. 26 (UPI) -- The World Health Organization reported Wednesday at least 95 cases of infection with the deadly Ebola virus have been confirmed in the Cuvette-Ouest region of the Republic of Congo, resulting in 77 deaths so far.
WHO officials also said they have identified 149 more people who had been in contact with patients suffering from the highly contagious hemorrhagic fever, which has been concentrated in the remote forest districts of Etoumbi, Mbomo and Kelle, near the country's border with Gabon.
The All-Africa online news service reported Congo's Red Cross, which has 62 volunteers trained in techniques to combat Ebola, has been attempting to assess the situation in those areas. Efforts are underway by the country's health ministry, the WHO and other agencies to increase awareness of the disease among the village populations, where the outbreak has been concentrated.
The efforts also include identifying additional suspected cases, placing victims under quarantine, enacting infection-control measures and warning the local population not to eat wild animal meat or touch dead animals, and to adopt safe practices during funeral rites, All-Africa's Web site said.
"Ebola is devastating and terrifying. It can kill those who care for the sick, and those who perform funeral rites," Dr. Bernard Moriniere, senior epidemiologist for the Red Cross, said in a written statement.
"Enforcing effective control measures while establishing trust and respecting the fears, traditions and beliefs of the community is very difficult in a context of death and despair," Moriniere said. "Community-based Red Cross volunteers can play a crucial role as a trusted bridge that is often lacking in such situations."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta advises that Ebola hemorrhagic fever, or Ebola HF, is "a severe, often-fatal disease in humans and nonhuman primates (monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees) that has appeared sporadically since its initial recognition in 1976." It is caused by a virus.
The disease is named after a river in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly Zaire (and not Republic of Congo) in Africa where it was first recognized. The virus is one of two members of a family of RNA viruses called the Filoviridae. There are four known subtypes of Ebola virus, of which three have caused disease in humans: Ebola-Zaire, Ebola-Sudan and Ebola-Ivory Coast.
A fourth strain, Ebola-Reston, caused disease in chimpanzees but not humans. Its progress from Africa to the United States was described in 1994 in the best-selling book, "The Hot Zone," by Richard Preston.
Ebola symptoms include fever, diarrhea, severe blood loss and intense fatigue. The virus tends to dissolve the body's tissues, permitting infected liquids to escape, thereby allowing the organism to "jump" to new victims. There is no cure, and up to 90 percent of those infected die within a matter of days. The best way to halt Ebola's spread is through prevention and prompt detection and isolation of suspected cases.
Congo authorities were first alerted to a possible Ebola outbreak when a group of gorillas in the region began dying, All-Africa reported. Tests carried out on the bodies confirmed they had died of Ebola. Officials said they suspect the current outbreak in humans has been caused by villagers eating primates infected by the virus.