10242012Headline:

Ebola outbreak in northeastern DR Congo kills at least 6

KINSHASA, DR CONGO (BNO NEWS) -- A serious outbreak of Ebola is believed to be responsible for at least six deaths in the northeastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, local and international health authorities said on Friday. It is unrelated to a deadly outbreak in neighboring Uganda last month.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said it was notified by the Congolese Ministry of Health of a suspected Ebola outbreak in the towns of Isiro and Dungu, both located in the province of Orientale which borders the Central African Republic and South Sudan to the north and Uganda to the east.

Three samples taken from two patients were taken to the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) in the Ugandan city of Entebbe where they tested positive for the Bundibugyo species of the deadly Ebola virus. Authorities in the region have so far reported 10 suspected cases, including six deaths, of which nine were in Isiro and one in Dungu.

Details about the suspected and confirmed Ebola cases were not immediately released, but the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the first case was reported on August 1, and additional cases have been reported since. But the country's poor health system and the remote but busy towns have worried some experts that the disease may spread.

The Congolese Ministry of Health (MoH) has convened a national task force to coordinate the response to the outbreak and is working with international health agencies. A joint MoH, WHO and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) emergency response team is already in the area to conduct a detailed epidemiological investigation and case management.

An international team comprised of epidemiologists, logisticians, anthropologists and social mobilization officers is also being mobilized for possible deployment to the area. "Control activities that are being carried out include active case finding and contact tracing, enhanced surveillance, case management, public information and social mobilization and reinforcing infection control practices," a WHO spokesperson said.

The outbreak in DR Congo is unrelated to an outbreak in Uganda last month, where a different strain of Ebola killed sixteen people and infected up to eight others. Ugandan health authorities have said the outbreak there is under control, with no new confirmed cases since August 4.

Ebola is a highly infectious disease and kills its victims in a very short time, but the virus can easily be confused with many other diseases. The signs and symptoms include high grade fever, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headache, measles-like rash, red eyes, and in some cases bleeding from body openings.

The virus, for which there is no cure or vaccine, can spread through direct contact with body fluids such as saliva, blood, stool, vomit, urine and sweat, but also through soiled linen used by an infected person. It can also spread by using skin piercing instruments previously used by an infected person or by touching the dead body of a person who died of Ebola.

Before the outbreaks in DR Congo and Uganda, the last known case of Ebola was reported in May 2011 when a 12-year-old girl died in a town near the Ugandan capital of Kampala. Despite initial fears of an epidemic, and the Kenyan Ministry of Health issuing an alert to people living near the Ugandan border, no other cases were recorded.

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