KINSHASA, 11 September 2007 (IRIN) - Health authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have identified a fever outbreak that has claimed at least 167 lives in the southern province of Kasai Occidental as Ebola.
The highly-contagious and often fatal Ebola virus
"The results from the referral laboratory in Franceville in Gabon and the CDC [Centers for Disease Control] in Atlanta in the United States confirmed the diagnosis of the haemorrhagic viral Ebola fever," health minister Victor Makwenge Kaput said on national television on 10 September.
The Mweka and Luebo health zones were the worst affected by the fever epidemic over the past two months, according to the provincial health inspector, Jean-Constatin Kanow. Mweka has an estimated population of 140,511.
According to Kanow, there have been at least 395 cases, including the fatalities.
"This epidemic evolved without us knowing its exact cause," Makwenge said. The symptoms of those infected led to the suspicion of haemorrhagic fever.
The viral fever is spread through contact with infected people, who initially present with fever, headache, vomiting, colicky abdominal pain, and bloody diarrhoea, followed by severe dehydration and death, Kanow said.
"The symptoms last between five and seven days," he added.
People in the province, as in other parts of the country, are at further risk of contracting the fever due to the lack of observance of safe practices in the handling and disposal of dead bodies.
Two of the victims of the latest outbreak were pastors who came into contact with infected patients in their churches, according to Kanow.
The fever was first recognised on 8 June after the deaths of two village chiefs. Subsequently, all those who assisted in the burial also died, Kanow said.
According to Makwenge, health teams had been mobilised at the local, national, and international level to help deal with the outbreak.
The number of infected persons had increased, but deaths had decreased due to interventions by teams from the health ministry and the UN World Health Organisation (WHO) in affected areas.
"We have asked the WHO to help us in coordinating the response to the epidemic," Makwenge said. He also appealed for calm and adherence to the recommendations of the health teams deployed in the affected areas.
Meanwhile, the government has also put in place measures to prevent the spread of the epidemic to other localities.
According to the government spokesperson, Toussaint Tshilobo, a quarantine had been imposed in the affected areas to prevent the spread of the disease.
The DRC has in the past experienced severe Ebola epidemics - in 1976 in Yambuku in Orientale province, in Kikwit, Bandundu, in 1995 where at least 250 deaths were reported, and in Watsa, Orientale, in 1999.