Mystery illness ‘could be linked to pollutant’

Tests are being carried out to determine whether a mystery illness that has affected at least 370 people in Angola is linked to exposure to a toxin.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed that a number of environmental samples and tests on food and drinking water have been carried out in the region in a bid to determine the cause of the disease.

Poisoning from cadmium, lead, mercury and manganese has been ruled out after tests revealed the levels are within the normal ranges.

Another series of tests for 300 organic solvents and a general drug screen covering 800 compounds have also failed to reveal the cause of the illness.

The first cases of the disease, which have left many unable to walk unaided, were reported in early October in the Cacuaco municipality, north of Angola’s capital Luanda.

By last Thursday, 370 people had been treated at the region’s Municipal Hospital and at least four people are believed to have died.

Medical experts say more people may be infected but could have chosen to remain at home or to receive treatment from traditional healers.

The WHO said the symptoms, which include fever and extreme drowsiness, suggest a toxicological cause.

In a statement, the organisation said: “Patients recover slowly, over a number of days, but remain ataxic with many unable to walk unaided.

“The symptoms are most extreme in children.

“The case presentation suggests a toxicological cause, however, the etiological agent has not yet been identified.”

Investigations have also failed to reveal a common source or route of exposure and have been extended.

Kate Martin

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