Congo Finds 11 Fever Cases, Death Amid Ebola Outbreak

(Bloomberg) -- Eleven cases of hemorrhagic fever and one death have been recorded in northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo, where an Ebola outbreak was declared on May 8, Health Minister Oly Ilunga said.

Seven patients are hospitalized in the town of Bikoro in Equateur province, including two who tested positive for the Zaire strain of the Ebola virus and confirmed the outbreak, while four are in a nearby health center, Ilunga told reporters Thursday in the capital, Kinshasa.

Of five samples tested to date, only two have confirmed the presence of Ebola. “It is important to remember that there are several types of hemorrhagic fever apart from the Ebola virus” in the country, Ilunga said. “All suspected cases are not necessarily cases of Ebola,” he said.

On Wednesday, a team of a dozen experts deployed by the Health Ministry arrived in the city of Mbandaka, about 150 kilometers from Bikoro, Ilunga said. They are tasked with investigating the situation on the ground and organizing the response. Their priorities include identifying the outbreak’s epicenter and index case. The experts are traveling to Bikoro with rapid diagnosis tests, as well as protection and treatment kits, and will take samples from the suspected cases, Ilunga said.

An Ebola outbreak in northern Equateur province in 2014 killed 49 people. The cases were unrelated to the epidemic in West Africa that year in which more than 11,000 people died. The viral disease, which has no known cure or proven vaccine, was first reported in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and takes its name from a river in that country.

This is the country’s ninth recorded Ebola outbreak, the last of which was in 2017. “Our health professionals have in the past demonstrated their expertise and competence to control the previous episodes,” Ilunga said. 

“The Health Ministry plans to use the whole diagnostic and therapeutic arsenal at its disposal, including vaccines,” Ilunga added. During last year’s outbreak, the government authorized the use of an experimental vaccine, but the pilot scheme wasn’t launched before the virus was contained.

The ministry was alerted to the likelihood of Ebola around Bikoro on May 3 after 17 people died from hemorrhagic fever, which led it to test the five patients suspected of carrying the virus. 

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