KINSHASA, 30 Mar 2005 (IRIN) - In response to fears that a recent outbreak of the deadly Marburg virus in Angola could spread across the 1,750-km border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Congolese minister of health, Emile Bongeli, said on Tuesday that the government had set up a quarantine zone along the frontier.
"Though so far there are no signs of any cases in the DRC, we live with the threat of another outbreak, so we are taking the precautions," he said.
Marburg haemorrhagic fever causes massive haemorrhaging as well as high fever, headaches, vomiting and diarrhoea. Related to the deadly Ebola virus, it is indigenous to Africa and is transmitted through bodily fluids, including perspiration.
First identified by scientists in 1967, the first large-scale outbreak of the rare disease in the DRC occurred between 1998 and 2000, when 123 people died.
In 2000, there was an even larger outbreak in the country that killed 140 people in just three weeks, Dr Muyembe Tamfum, the medical director of a government biomedical research institute in the capital, Kinshasa, told IRIN.
The disease has no specific cure, but hospital therapy - including the balancing of fluids and the maintenance of oxygen levels and blood pressure - combined with the treatment of any complicating infections, can help overcome the illness.
In Angola, at least 117 people have died of the disease in the northern province of Uige, which borders the DRC provinces of Bas Congo and Bandundu.
On Monday, Bongeli returned from areas that border Angola, where a team of 15 experts has been sent to train local health workers in improving surveillance of the disease.
"We want to be able to detect and diagnose suspected cases as soon as possible," Muyembe, who accompanied Bongeli, said.
Health officials acknowledge the difficulty of stopping the disease from crossing the frontier, which cuts across ethnic groups and is a place of trade between Angola and the DRC.
However, Dr Daniel Kyandja, the medical inspector of the DRC province of Bas-Congo, who also accompanied Bongeli on his tour, said: "We can help make local communities aware of the seriousness of the problem.
"Locals will inform medical authorities as soon as they suspect a case."
The Congolese Ministry of Health is receiving aid from the UN World Health Organization, US Aid for International Development and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, USA.