Maduro says foreign media behind fears of epidemic

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Nicolas Maduro accused CNN and other international media on Thursday of conspiring against his government by publishing what he called false reports of a mysterious illness.

The head of the college of physicians in the city of Maracay sounded an alarm last week after reporting that eight people had died of unknown causes hours after checking into a hospital with common symptoms including high fevers and blotches on their skin.

Authorities immediately accused the doctor of lying and said all causes of deaths had been determined. But that didn't stop some Venezuelans, especially government opponents, from taking to social media to denounce the outbreak as an unknown epidemic and even speculating that the Ebola virus that has killed hundreds in West Africa had arrived on South America's shores.

The health scare has since cooled, but Maduro said he won't tolerate any "psychological terror" from foreign media that he accuses of misreporting the deaths.

While he named a number of media outlets for sowing panic, including the Miami Herald and the BBC's Spanish-language service, the president said he was considering pursuing legal action against CNN en Espanol, which devoted an entire program to the deaths. The network has yet to comment.

"These acts must be severely punished," Maduro said in an address broadcast on national TV and radio. "Venezuela in the past few hours, the past few days, has received attacks like we haven't seen in 15 years of revolution."

Partly fueling Venezuelans concerns is a dramatic increase in mosquito-borne illnesses around the Caribbean. The Health Ministry reported Wednesday that so far this year it has detected 398 cases of chikungunya virus and more than 45,745 people infected with dengue.

Both diseases rarely prove fatal when detected early. But Venezuela's economic problems have led to widespread shortages of medical supplies and medicines, making it harder for physicians to treat patients.

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