An Ebola epidemic has been declared in the northeast region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
THE first Ebola outbreak since the crisis in West Africa that killed 11,300 people has been declared in northeast Democratic Republic of Congo, the World Health Organisation said, after the virus caused three deaths in the area.
Health authorities are also looking into a total of nine suspected cases.
One of those killed had tested positive for Ebola after coming down with a haemorrhagic fever last month in Bas-Uele, a province which borders the Central African Republic.
The three deaths all occurred since April 22.
In a television address, Health Minister Oly Ilunga confirmed the cases while urging the population “not to panic”.
The country “has taken all necessary measures to respond quickly and efficiently to this new outbreak”, he said.
The Congo outbreak is the first since a three-month outbreak in 2014 that claimed 49 lives. That outbreak was not connected to the massive epidemic in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone that left thousands dead.
The WHO said it was working closely with Congo authorities to help deploy health workers and protective equipment in the remote area, which is difficult for teams to access, in order to “rapidly control the outbreak”.
The organisation underlined the importance of tracing people who had contact with confirmed victims to prevent the disease spreading.
Sufferers are advised to keep themselves isolated while awaiting treatment for a disease whose incubation period is 21 days.
The outbreak could test a recently developed experimental ebola vaccine that WHO says could be used in emergencies.
The global vaccine alliance GAVI said 300,000 doses are available “if needed to stop this outbreak becoming a pandemic.”
So far all the cases have been tied to a remote village, and it’s a strain of ebola that’s been seen in the country before.
Dr. Allarangar Yokouide, the WHO representative in Congo, said the first teams of specialists should arrive in the affected area of Likati on Saturday.
The zone is some 1300km from the capital, Kinshasa.
“The area in Likati is difficult to access, but the work of tracing contacts is very crucial to stopping the epidemic in its tracks,” he said.
The community is near the border with Central African Republic.
Ebola occasionally jumps to humans from animals including bats and monkeys.
Without preventive measures, the virus can spread quickly between people and is fatal in up to 90 per cent of cases. There is no specific treatment for the disease.
The new cluster of Ebola cases will again test one of the world’s least equipped health systems. The US Agency for International Development has said an estimated 70 per cent of the population has little or no access to health care.
Australian Jo Dunlop was working in Africa before Ebola struck, but the epidemic made her even more determined to stay and document the stories of those affected.