Killer virus still a big mystery as probe continues

Zinhle Mapumulo

Zinhle Mapumulo

At least 111 people are being monitored at two Johannesburg hospitals following the death of four people from a mystery infectious disease.

The group consists of family members and staff who came into contact with the dead people.

About 55 of them are being monitored at Morningside Medi-Clinic, while 66 are at Randfontein Hospital. Among them is the 11-year-old son of Gladys Mthembu, the nurse who died on Sunday, and his 28-year-old nanny.

Mthembu was the third person to die from the mysterious disease. The first person to die was Cecilia van Deventer, from Zambia, followed by a paramedic who had accompanied her to South Africa.

A cleaner at the hospital also died on Monday, but it is not clear if it was due to the unknown disease. All the dead had flu-like symptoms.

Professor Guy Richards, of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said the group would not be quarantined at this stage.

"We will only do so when they show symptoms of viral haemorrhagic fever, which include skin rash, nausea, diarrhoea, kidney and liver failure. They are being monitored every six hours to see if they develop any of these symptoms," said Richards.

On Monday six people were isolated on suspicion that they had had close contact with the victims. Four were discharged yesterday, while the nanny and the boy are still under observation at Morningside Hospital.

Melinda Pelser, the hospital spokesman, said the pair were not sick.

"The boy is very traumatised and needs counselling. The nanny has to stay in hospital with him during this period." she said.

Experts still have no idea what they are dealing with. However, they agree that it is a haemorrhagic fever virus.

Lucille Blumberg, of the NICD, said investigations were under way to find the cause of the virus.

"We have traced Van Deventer's movements and discovered that she spent most of her time in the bush with animals in Lusaka. We are working with the Zambian authorities and they have assured us that there has been no similar case reported in the country.

Richards assured the public that they are not at risk.