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A deadly fever thought to be typhus has killed 19 refugees and may be spreading, posing yet another threat to the nearly 1 million Rwandans in crowded camps, authorities said Tuesday.

Unsanitary conditions in the camps have spawned epidemics of cholera and dysentery, which along with other diseases and malnutrition have claimed as many as 25,000 lives since mid-July.Thirty cases of the new, undiagnosed fever were reported, said Ray Wilkinson, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

French military doctors think the disease is typhus and have sent blood samples to France for testing. Results were expected by week's end.

Typhus is a generic name for any of several infectious diseases characterized by high fever. It can be prevented by vaccination and treated with antibiotics.

The disease is commonly spread by lice, which abound among the filthy, largely unwashed refugees, who barely get enough clean water to drink. It can easily strike down the weak, elderly and malnourished, whose natural defense mechanisms are impaired.

About 1 million war refugees, mainly Hutus, are in Goma, having fled Rwanda for fear of reprisals from the Tutsi rebels who ousted the Hutu-led government.

Up to 500,000 civilians, mainly Tutsis, were slaughtered by Hutu militias and the Rwandan army after the country's civil war reignited in April, when Rwanda's Hutu president died in an unexplained plane crash.

To ease the strain on the camps, the United Nations has tried to encourage Rwandans to return home - with little success.

U.N. officials believe only 130,000 refugees have returned to Rwanda.


Additional Information

CBS doctor stricken

A CBS newsman who helped save a Rwandan boy stricken with cholera caught the disease from him and had to be treated in a Nairobi hospital, the network said Monday in New York.

CBS News said that its medical correspondent, Dr. Bob Arnot, came down with the disease several days after rescuing a 7-year-old boy by the side of a road outside Goma, Zaire, in late July. The boy had been left for dead and was barely breathing when Arnot found him.

The boy was covered with feces and Arnot said that by picking the youth up and bringing him to a hospital where he administered rehydration therapy, he contracted the disease.

"Four days after I helped the boy, I came down with cholera even though I thought I was being very careful," he said.

The boy whose life Arnot helped save was taken to a hospital in Goma where he was released after several days of treatment.