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Mail & Guardian Online reporter and Sapa, Boyd Webb and agencies07 Oct 2008 17:11
A hundred and twenty people are now under observation after coming into contact with the three people who died from suspected haemorrhagic fever.
Earlier on Tuesday it was feared that a 51-year-old cleaning supervisor had also contracted the killer disease.
However doctors said the woman would probably be discharged on Tuesday after blood tests showed no trace of the virus.
One hundred and twenty one people who had direct contact with the three people who died are currently under observation and having their temperatures monitored every six hours for the next 21 days—the possible incubation period of the disease.
A health official said on Tuesday the disease was suspected to be Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF).
“We suspect that it may be Congo haemorrhagic fever but we have not made a diagnosis yet,” said Frew Benson, the South African Health Department’s deputy director of communicable diseases.
Officials held a press conference at the Morningside Medi-Clinic on Tuesday, because they said they wanted to dispel misconception and panic around the illness.
Intensive care specialist professor Guy Richards said: “The public at large are not at risk”.
The doctors said only those who had come into contact with the deceased and their bodily fluids had any possibility of contracting the disease.
Medi-Clinic Gauteng marketing manager Melinda Pelser said: “This hospital is at no risk, this is where there is a huge misunderstanding.”
The first fatality was Cecilia Van Deventer (36), a reservations manager for Wilderness Safaris in Lusaka. After falling ill, Van Deventer was taken to three different hospitals before being flown to South Africa.
She was admitted to the Morningside Medi-Clinic on September 12 and treated for tick-bite fever, but died two days later.
Hannes Els (33), a paramedic who accompanied Els, also displayed similar symptoms and was admitted to the same hospital on September 27 and was dead by October 2.
Two others who worked at the hospital have also died.
Pelser said Mokubung did not die from the viral disease.
“She died of a neurological illness. It has been established that she was not near the patient,” said Pelser.
Dr Simon Miti, the permanent secretary in the Zambian Health Ministry, said that no other cases had been reported.
“It is still quiet here. We have checked all the places the woman [Van Deventer] passed through and no one has presented with any of the symptoms or died with similar condition. Out of the 12-million Zambians no one has presented with these symptoms,” Miti said.
Meanwhile, private and public hospitals were urged by the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) to take precautionary measures and isolate patients who were vomiting and suffering from diarrhoea.
“This outbreak has put lives of many South Africans at risk and the authorities have a duty to investigate if negligence is to blame for this serious health hazard,” said Nehawu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla.
CCHF is carried by domestic animals and can be transmitted by ticks. It is found in Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia.
CCHF first appeared in Crimea in 1944 and was later identified in 1956 as the cause of an illness in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Cases have been recorded in Kosovo, Albania, Iran, Pakistan and South Africa. Symptoms include headaches, back pains, vomiting, severe bruising and nose bleeds.
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