Rate of new infections in Ebola outbreak drops

BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo -- An Ebola outbreak in Republic of Congo has killed 79 people but appears to be slowing down, health investigators said Wednesday.

The rate of new infections has started tapering off in the quarantined region of Cuvette West, where the deaths have occurred, World Health Organization spokesman Iain Simpson said in Geneva.

Last week, health officials registered only eight new cases compared to as many as 25 in previous weeks. Nearly 100 people are still battling the disease.

"I'm not suggesting that we won't see more cases, because we probably will," Simpson said. "But we're hopeful that the number of new cases will still drop."

The viral disease is one of the world's deadliest, causing rapid death through massive blood loss in up to 90 percent of those infected. Ebola spreads through bodily fluids. Primates, hunted by many central Africans for food, can carry the infection.

Villagers believing the disease to be a curse initially fled from emergency medical workers earlier this month.

An education campaign has since persuaded them to seek treatment if they think they've been exposed, Simpson said.

Ebola generally kills rapidly and has so far afflicted far-flung regions of Africa, meaning the disease has burned out before spreading great distances.

Earlier this month, reports reached the capital, Brazzaville, of an outbreak of a hemorrhagic fever in the forested Cuvette West region, which has 30,000 inhabitants spread among towns and villages.

WHO says more than 1,000 people have died of Ebola since the virus was first identified in 1976 in Sudan and Congo.