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Gabon Seals Off Province to Help Contain Ebola Outbreak in Western Africa

Gabon's government was stepping up efforts to contain an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, restricting access to an entire province affected by the disease.

Security and defense forces were helping local officials control movement in and out of the northeastern frontier province of Ogooue Ivindo, where the virus has already killed 17 people, government spokesman Andre Mba Obame said late Friday on state TV.

Authorities had previously controlled access to several affected villages in Ogooue Ivindo — a remote, thinly populated region inhabited by pygmies and other tribes who hunt in the vast rain forests of the Western Africa country.

There were no reports, however, that the disease was spreading.

Medical officials confirmed 20 Ebola cases in Gabon, of whom 17 have died since the outbreak began in October. Twelve other cases, including six fatalities, were identified in the neighboring Republic of Congo.

Gabon had already sealed off its border with the Republic of Congo, allowing only medical specialists dealing with the crisis to cross. Authorities in the Republic of Congo had also cordoned off a 125-mile region on their side of the border.

The World Health Organization said medical experts were monitoring 147 people in Gabon and 95 in the Republic of Congo who may have had contact with those infected with the disease.

Obame announced the creation of a special committee to deal with the crisis. He said it would be under the supervision of the prime minister and would include the ministers of health, defense, transport and the interior. He gave no other details.

Ebola is one of the most deadly viral diseases known, killing 50 to 90 percent of those who become infected. But the disease usually kills its victims faster than it can spread, burning out before it can reach too far.

The virus is passed through contact with bodily fluids, causing fever, diarrhea, vomiting and heavy bleeding.