Outbreak of mystery disease kills four in South Africa

A mystery flu-like disease which has killed four people in South Africa is causing concern because the disease appears to be highly contagious and health authorities are urging people not to panic.

The four victims lived in Johannesburg and the outbreak appears to have started in a private clinic in the wealthy Sandton district with the death of a critically ill Zambian woman brought to South Africa for treatment.

The Morningside Medi-Clinic treated her for tick-bite fever and other potential infections, but she died two days later; more of a worry is that the Zambian paramedic who accompanied her to Johannesburg was later admitted to the same clinic with flu-like symptoms and also died.

Then over the weekend, a nurse who treated the first victim and a cleaner at the clinic who was reportedly in poor health, became the third and fourth victims of the disease.

According to the Department of Health blood samples from the dead nurse were not conclusive of any particular disease, including the viral haemorrhagic fevers - a group of illnesses that occur in animals and humans that are characterized by bleeding disorders and fever.

The health department says that although the disease was "highly contagious" it appeared to be only transmitted through body fluids and has warned anyone who has travelled to Zambia in the past month and suffers a high temperature and flu-like symptoms to immediately seek treatment.

Officials say they are still investigating the actual causes of the deaths to determine if they are related to flu or fever and cannot at this stage say categorically what the causes are as most of the patients who died manifested flu-like symptoms.

In an attempt to contain the spread of the disease health authorities are trying to trace anyone who had contact with the victims.

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