The World Health Organization’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said later on Monday that six cases had been identified by Congo’s Health Ministry. He said the WHO’s response was underway.
No cases of the novel coronavirus have been confirmed in Mbandaka, although more than 3,000 have been confirmed across Congo. The coronavirus and Ebola are unrelated. Ebola, which is endemic to Africa’s tropical rainforests, is transmitted only through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids and manifests as a hemorrhagic fever accompanied in severe cases by vomiting and extensive internal bleeding.
Congo has grappled for almost two years with a separate Ebola outbreak in its northeastern provinces that has killed 2,272 people so far. In April, that outbreak, the country’s worst, had been just days away from being declared over when new cases were found. The same region is also home to the world’s largest ongoing measles outbreak.
The worst outbreak of Ebola took place mainly across three West African countries between late 2013 and early 2016, when nearly 30,000 people were infected and more than 11,000 died.
The new outbreak in Équateur would be Congo’s 11th since the virus was first identified in 1976. Experimental vaccines have proved effective in preventing the spread of Ebola, but no cure has been found. Different strains of the virus exist, and different outbreaks have had mortality rates ranging from 25 to 90 percent.
Rickety health infrastructure and mistrust in governments and foreign aid organizations have impeded Ebola responses in Congo and West Africa. Locals have accused health officials and contracted suppliers of using well-funded responses to enrich themselves while imposing strict restrictions on movement and business. Congo’s government, however, has been lauded as quick to identify and contain Ebola in most previous outbreaks.
Etienne Masango in Mbandaka contributed to this report.