Health officials in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have confirmed another Ebola outbreak in the country’s east, the fourth in less than three years.
- This is the 12th outbreak in conflict-ridden Congo
- The 2018 outbreak in Eastern Congo was the second deadliest in the world
- Health officials worry the new outbreak could badly affect the nation’s fragile health system
A woman died in Butembo town in North Kivu province on February 3, Congo’s Minister of Health Eteni Longondo announced.
The woman from the nearby village of Biena felt sick for a few days before being tested in a clinic there.
She then went to a hospital but died before receiving the results.
Mr Longondo said the Government had begun tracing everyone who had come in contact with the woman to try to “eradicate the epidemic as soon as possible”.
The Government says the source of the infection is unknown but the woman was the wife of an Ebola survivor.
This is the 12th outbreak in conflict-ridden Congo since the virus was first discovered in the country in 1976.
It also comes less than three months after an outbreak in the western province of Equateur officially ended in November.
The 2018 outbreak in Eastern Congo was the second deadliest in the world, killing 2,299 people before it ended.
That outbreak lasted for nearly two years and was fought amid unprecedented challenges, including entrenched conflict between armed groups, the world’s largest measles epidemic, and the spread of COVID-19.
Highly contagious virus contracted through bodily fluids
Health officials worry a new Ebola outbreak could badly affect the nation’s fragile health system, especially as it faces a resurgence of COVID-19.
“While there is hope that this early identification of an infection may help with quickly containing this outbreak, back-to-back Ebola outbreaks and COVID-19 has stretched Congo’s health systems to the limit and this could put far greater strain on an already exasperated system,” Jason Kindrachuk, from the department of medical microbiology and infectious diseases at Canada’s University of Manitoba, said.
Dr Kindrachuk is conducting research on survivors from the 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola outbreak, the deadliest ever.
The Ebola virus is highly contagious and can be contracted through bodily fluids such as vomit, blood, or semen.
The virus can live in the semen of male survivors for more than three years, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Health experts say as outbreaks become more frequent, it is important to understand more about how the virus is contracted.
In a statement, the World Health Organization said it was not unusual for sporadic cases to occur following a major outbreak and that previous Ebola responses were already making it easier to deal with this one.
“The expertise and capacity of local health teams have been critical in detecting this new Ebola case and paving the way for a timely response,” Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said.
The WHO is investigating the case and trying to identify the strain of the virus to determine its link to the previous outbreak.
Congo has suffered more than a quarter-century of conflict and distrust of government health workers, as well as outsiders are high in eastern Congo.