Return of Ebola virus claims 13

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Geneva (Reuter) - Thirteen people have died in the west African state of Gabon from the highly infectious Ebola virus after a dead chimpanzee was skinned for a feast in a remote village, the World Health Organisation said yesterday.

The WHO said scientists in Paris and at a research centre in Gabon had formally confirmed the toll, adding that seven people infected with the virus had been admitted to hospital in the town of Makokou. It said seven others were under observation at the hospital, and an international team of doctors was trying to trace people who had helped to take the sick to Makokou, capital of the province where the village, Mayibout II, is located.

WHO officials indicated last week they had no doubt Ebola, which is transmitted through a victim's blood or other body fluids and kills at least seven in every 10 people it infects, was involved.

Of the dead so far, 12 had had contact with the blood of the dead chimpanzee. The latest fatality was a six-month-old child of one of the people originally infected. Another child in the same family was hospitalised with fever. All 20 confirmed cases so far came from Mayibout II, deep in the bush in the east of the country.

For the time being, the UN agency said in a statement from its Geneva headquarters, it was not recommending travel restrictions to or within Gabon. Ebola, which causes massive internal and external bleeding, killed a known 245 people in and around the city of Kikwit in Zaire in the middle of last year.

A number of dead animals had been found in the bush around the three villages, including a second chimpanzee, a wild cat, an antelope and two gorillas. A Gabon government team was ensuring surveillance of animal life in the area.

Scientists have so far failed to identify the origin of the Ebola virus, named after a river in northern Zaire where it first surfaced in the 1970s. But they suspect it is carried by animals, especially monkeys.