DAKAR, Senegal — A fresh outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus has flared up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country that was already contending with the world’s largest measles epidemic, as well as the coronavirus.
Congo’s health ministry said that the new Ebola outbreak has killed four people, and infected at least two more, in Mbandaka, a city of 1.2 million people on the country’s western side. A fifth person died on Monday, according to UNICEF, the United Nations agency for children.
Less than two months ago, Congo was about to declare an official end to an Ebola epidemic on the eastern side of the country that had lasted nearly two years and killed more than 2,275 people. Then, with just two days to go, a new case was found, and the outbreak could not be declared over. But officials say it is in its final stages.
It is unclear how Ebola emerged in Mbandaka, which is about 750 miles west of the nearly-vanquished outbreak on the country’s eastern edge. Congo (formerly known as Zaire) is the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa, and has been under travel restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Reported cases of coronavirus have so far been mostly in the capital, Kinshasa, also in the country’s west. Congo has reported 3,049 cases of coronavirus, including 71 deaths, but testing is limited, so it is impossible to know the true scale of the outbreak.
More than 350,000 people have been infected with measles in the country since January 2019, and over 6,500 have died.
Dr. Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Africa, wrote on Twitter that although the new outbreak of Ebola posed a challenge, the W.H.O., along with Congo’s health ministry and the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, were ready to tackle it.
“With each experience we respond faster and more effectively,” Dr. Moeti wrote.
The five people who died included a 15-year-old girl, according to UNICEF. Two other patients were being treated in the isolation unit of a city hospital.
Ebola causes fever, bleeding, weakness and abdominal pain, and kills about half of those it infects. It is transmitted through contact with sick or dead people or animals, and is named for the Ebola River, in Congo, where it was first identified, in 1976.
The largest known outbreak of Ebola erupted in 2014 in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and killed more than 11,000 people. But since then, researchers have developed vaccines and treatment methods that can limit transmission of the disease.
This is not the first time that Ebola has hit Mbandaka, an equatorial port city on the Congo River. An outbreak in May 2018 resulted in at least 54 cases and 33 deaths in the area. But the W.H.O. delivered more than 7,500 doses of an Ebola vaccine to Congo, and the outbreak in Mbandaka was quickly brought under control. It was declared over on July 24 of that year.
In eastern Congo, ongoing violence and insecurity that has forced people to flee their homes has also made it difficult to end the epidemic. By comparison, the western Équateur Province, where the new Ebola cases have emerged, is relatively safe and stable.
There have been many outbreaks of Ebola in Congo over many years, and most have been resolved relatively quickly.
The government imposed travel restrictions between the country’s provinces in response to the coronavirus outbreak, which may now also help limit the spread of Ebola from Mbandaka.