Eight killed by epidemic akin to polio

An epidemic akin to polio, which has raged for nearly two weeks in the main commercial city in southern Congo, Pointe-Noire, has already killed eight, and several dozen cases have been reported, say health officials.

"Patients admitted to hospitals have flu-like symptoms. They are also presenting with paralysis starting in the lower limbs which spreads to the upper limbs, "said Director-General of Health Alexis Elira Dockekias.

"This epidemic is related to the recent polio outbreak. The only difference is that this time the disease affects adolescents and adults, unlike polio which affects mainly the young and children," he said, adding that those affected by the epidemic are aged 15-45.

He called on the public "not to panic but to observe strict hygiene measures: boiling drinking water; washing vegetables properly; and cooking cassava [the staple food] thoroughly."

The outbreak was confirmed by the World Health Organization (WHO), which said on its website on 4 November: "There is a serious outbreak of polio in the Republic of Congo:120 cases of acute flaccid paralysis (a syndrome related to polio) and eight deaths.

"Two cases were confirmed as having been caused by poliovirus Type 1," said WHO which is awaiting test results for the other cases.

Half the cases were reported in the last 10 days, the first cases having occurred in early October, according to WHO, which said polio had disappeared from the country since 2000.

Congolese health authorities say people in Pointe-Noire have been facing "serious drinking water problems" over the past few weeks.