Medics in Congo have confirmed 17 people have died of Ebola amid fears the outbreak will have an “international impact”.
The revelation comes just after the deadly virus swept across West Africa between 2013 and 2016, killing at least 11,000 people.
It is the ninth time Ebola has hit the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), whose eastern Ebola river gave the deadly virus its name.
The World Health Organisations said: “In the past five weeks, there have been 21 suspected viral haemorrhagic fever…including 17 deaths.”
It said it had released £650,000 from an emergency contingency fund to help combat the medical crisis on the ground.
The DRC health ministry warned of the “public health emergency with international impact” on Tuesday.
The outbreak occurred in the town of Bikoro, on the shores of Lake Tumba in the east of the country.
All the cases were reported from a clinic at Ilkoko Iponge, located about 20 miles from Bikoro, where medical facilities are “limited”.
A team of experts from the WHO and Medecins Sans Frontieres are now heading to invesitgate the outbreak
Ebola is one of the world’s most notorious diseases, being both highly infectious and extremely lethal.
It is caused by a virus that lives in bats which can be passed on to humans who hunt them for “bushmeat”.
The virus is then passed on by contact with bodily fluids – touching a sick or dead person is a well-known source of infection.
The worst-ever outbreak started in December 2013 in southern Guinea before spreading to Liberia and Sierra Leone.
That outbreak killed more than 11,300 people out of nearly 29,000 registered cases, according to WHO estimates. The real figure is thought to be much higher.
There is no current vaccine to prevent Ebola or licensed treatment for it, although a range of experimental drugs are in development.
Early care with rehydration may boost the chance of survival.
“Our top priority is to get to Bikoro to work alongside the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and partners to reduce the loss of life,” said Dr Peter Salama of the WHO.
“Working with partners and responding early and in a coordinated way will be vital to containing this deadly disease.”
WHO plans to deploy clinicians, infection prevention and control experts and vaccination support teams in the coming days.
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