WHO investigates outbreak of unidentified illness in Democratic Republic of the Congo

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Location of DRC within Africa. (Image: Rei-artur)

The World Health Organization (WHO) is investigating an outbreak of an, as yet, unidentified illness in the central region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). To date, the illness has killed more than 100 people.

The illness, first thought to be typhoid fever but now more likely a haemorrhagic fever, was first noticed in early June in Kasai Occidental province in the DRC. There have been 103 reported deaths from a total of 217 patients, for a mortality rate of nearly 50 percent. Health authorities are, however, unsure of the full extent of the outbreak.

In a press release, WHO described the symptoms as "fever, headache, diarrhoea or colicky abdominal pain, and vomiting." They also indicated that most of the cases have been in children under ten years of age. The time from onset to death is approximately five to seven days.

The United Nations agency, WHO, has deployed personnel to the affected areas and retrieved blood samples for laboratory testing. According to a provincial doctor, Jean-Constatin Kanow, the epidemic has affected four villages: Kampungu, Makonono, Kaluamba and Mombo, but was spreading.

Dr. Kanow described the first reported cases as involving the deaths of two village chiefs on June 8. "All the people who assisted in the burial of these chiefs have died," he said.

Authorities in the DRC, and WHO, have begun preparing for an emergency response should that be required. Measures have been put in place to control the outbreak, such as improvements to drinking water quality, hygiene, and the promotion of safer burial practices.