Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Marburg epidemic in Angola

Barnaby Phillips:



At the bottom of the hill, a local man pointed out the hut. Inside was the body of a one-month old baby girl. She had died alone, and in great pain.

The Marburg virus had already killed her mother; and the rest of the family had fled in fear.

The neighbours watched us with expressions of horror and guilt; for two days they had listened to the baby's cries, but were too afraid to go in and help her, in case they caught the virus.

The health workers prepared to go into the dark hut. They put on layer after layer of protective clothing; white plastic bodysuits, white rubber boots, gloves and goggles.

They looked like spacemen, utterly out of place in this poor neighbourhood on the edge of Uige. It is no wonder that some local people fear the health workers, believing they are wizards or sorcerers.

They entered the hut, but not before spraying the door with chlorinated water. Then they picked up the tiny body, and wrapped it in white plastic.

Outside, they placed it in a coffin, which they also sprayed. Then, painstakingly, they removed their layers of protective clothing, frequently pausing to spray the discarded garments with more chlorinated water.

The corpse of a Marburg victim is highly contagious, so we drove to the cemetery straight away. There, amidst the rows of freshly dug graves belonging to other victims, the health workers said a hurried prayer, and lowered the coffin into the ground. Nobody was sure of the baby's name.

The Marburg virus is one of the world's most terrifying diseases. It is passed through bodily fluids, like sweat or saliva, and there is no cure for it.

Victims collapse with a fever, and suffer from vomiting and diarrhoea. Often they start to bleed from their mouth, nose and other orifices.

In this outbreak, the worst ever, some 90% of infected people die within a matter of days. More than 250 people have lost their lives, almost all of them in the vicinity of Uige.

Nobody knows for sure how the outbreak started; one theory is that people became infected by eating the contaminated meat of wild animals.

News and Blogosphere:

Marburg Case Fatality Rate Remains Above 99.6%

Marburg Spread to Democratic Republic of the Congo?

Angola's Marburg death toll up to 280

Marburg Fever: Epidemic Still Not Under Control

Marburg In Angola is Ebola-like

Marburg's behaviour bewilders scientists

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