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Cablegate: Unidentified Disease has Killed 160 in West Kasai

VZCZCXRO1387
PP RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHGI RUEHHM RUEHJO RUEHLN RUEHMA RUEHMR RUEHPB
RUEHPOD RUEHRN
DE RUEHKI #1075 2501724
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 071724Z SEP 07
FM AMEMBASSY KINSHASA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6834
INFO RUEHZN/ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHXR/RWANDA COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY PRIORITY
RUEAUSA/DEPT OF HHS WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS KINSHASA 001075

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON EAGR EAID SENV TBIO CG
SUBJECT: UNIDENTIFIED DISEASE HAS KILLED 160 IN WEST KASAI

1. (SBU) Summary. An unidentified disease has killed 160 of
the 352 people who have contracted it since June 7 in seven
remote villages of Kasai Occidental (West Kasai) province in
central DRC. Samples have been collected and are being
analyzed inside and outside the DRC. Initial indications that
this might be typhoid fever are now in question because of
the highly contagious and lethal nature of the illness.
International assistance has been extended and more is
available if need be. End summary.

2. (SBU) 160 people have died from an unidentified disease in
seven villages in central DRC. The villages, with a little
more than 16,000 inhabitants, are located 70 kms (43 miles)
south of Mweka (on the main rail line between provincial
capital Kananga and river port Ilebo) near the town of Luebo.
Reports of the disease began after the death of one
village's traditional chief was followed a week later by the
death of his successor and others who had attended the
funeral. Provincial medical authorities reacted after an
August 18 report by local health clinic personnel that 46
people had died in two of the villages. The villagers had
not attempted to access the health clinics, the option of
last resort due to the high cost and low quality of care. On
August 21, provincial authorities from Kananga went to the
site and found that a total of 82 deaths had been recorded,
but only 19 from among the 120 individuals who sought medical
attention. Symptoms included fever, headache, diarrhea and
vomiting, with no/no mention of bleeding or respiratory
distress.

3. (SBU) From August 22-27, 97 more cases and 21 deaths were
recorded. On August 28, similar cases were found in Luebo
(eight cases, two deaths), Benaleka (eight cases) and Mweka
(four deaths). DRC health officials said initially that the
deaths were probably due to dehydration caused by typhoid
fever, a bacterial disease spread by contaminated water or
food, but later said that a viral cause could not be
excluded, given the highly contagious and lethal nature of
the illness. (Note: One report said that five members of
the same family had died in one village. End note.) A
report released by the DRC Ministry of Health (MOH) and
shared with WHO and CDC in Kinshasa noted that there have
been hundreds of cases of typhoid fever in Kinshasa, in
Bandundu province, and in Luebo since February 2007, but only
a few related deaths. The report also stated that there were
unexplained chicken, duck, pig and goat die-offs during the
months of April and May 2007 in these same villages.

4. (SBU) MOH epidemiologists collected samples in the field
August 31 - September 1 and brought these back for analysis
in Kinshasa (at the National Institute for Biomedical
Research, INRB) and in testing facilities overseas, including
CDC Atlanta. (Note: Initial results of these first samples
tested at INRB showed only shigella bacteria in one of the
seven samples. End note.) CDC has sent samples to Atlanta,
including samples collected by an American physician who
obtained them directly from victims in Mweka. Possible
causal agents include shigellosis, hemorrhagic fever,
gastro-intestinal anthrax, and typhoid fever. The MOH has
requested and is receiving assistance from WHO, MSF Belgium,
and others. MOH has been offered, and accepted, technical
assistance from CDC/Atlanta in case the samples indicate a
causal agent requiring CDC expertise, or in case no causal
agent can be immediately determined.

5. (SBU) The current toll stands at 352 human cases with 160
deaths, up from late August estimates of 249 cases and 116
deaths. There have been no further reports of bird or animal
die-offs. Human symptoms, especially the absence of any
respiratory problems, do not indicate avian influenza of any
kind. A consular warden message cautioning American citizens
about this mysterious outbreak has been issued.
BROCK

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