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Death Toll Hits 150 In French Island Epidemic

by Staff Writers
Paris (AFP) Mar 21, 2006
A disabling mosquito-borne disease that has hit the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion has claimed 148 lives, and almost a third of the population has been affected, health officials said on Friday.

The toll of 148 amounted to people whose death was directly or indirectly attributable to the disease, known as chikungunya, the national health monitoring institute said on Friday.

A total of 212,000 people have fallen sick with the disease in the course of the epidemic, it said. Reunion has a population of 777,000.

The French government has committed emergency health and economic aid worth over 90 million euros (110 million dollars) to help Reunion fight the scourge, but it has been criticised for failing to react in time as the epidemic started to unfold in early 2005.

Chikungunya, a disease believed to have originated in Africa, derives from a Swahili word meaning "that which bends up" because of its arthritic-type symptoms that leave victims stooped.

The disease is generally non-fatal and patients eventually recover, although much about it remains unclear.

Some 500 French troops have already been deployed in Reunion to help health workers spray mosquito breeding areas.

The crisis has badly hit the tourism industry in Reunion, an ethnically diverse department of France which lies to the east of Madagascar.

Cases have also been recorded in the nearby French island of Mayotte, as well as in the islands of Madagascar, Mauritius and the Seychelles, and among a small number of Reunionnais arriving in mainland France.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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