A second outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus has struck Congo, even before an earlier outbreak in a volatile eastern region has formally ended.
The Congolese health ministry said Monday it had identified six cases of the Ebola virus in Equateur Province, a region along the Congo River on the border with the Republic of the Congo. Four people have died.
The Equateur Province was the site of a relatively small Ebola outbreak in 2018, which infected 53 people and killed 29. That outbreak was brought under control when health officials rapidly deployed a vaccine to several towns and villages, including Mbandaka, a trading port on the Congo River.
The new outbreak appears unrelated to another that erupted in North Kivu Province, along Congo’s eastern border with Uganda and Rwanda, in 2018. That incident became the second-worst Ebola outbreak in modern history, fueled by violence and unrest in a war-torn region where about a million people are displaced.
The World Health Organization said the health ministry had identified 3,406 cases, and 2,243 had died.
Days before the health ministry was set to declare the end of the North Kivu outbreak, several new cases were detected in the region. No new cases have appeared for several weeks, and the last patient stricken with the virus has been discharged from the hospital.
The new outbreak adds to an already perilous moment for Congo. The health ministry is already dealing with the world’s largest measles outbreak, and the ministry said Monday it had identified 3,195 confirmed coronavirus cases. Most of the coronavirus cases, 2,896, have hit Kinshasa, one of Africa’s most populous cities.
The Ebola virus now poses another challenge to health ministry officials, who will race to contain it before anyone infected can board a boat or ferry on the river. Mbandaka is about 200 miles from Kinshasa, raising the risk of an outbreak in a densely-packed urban core that would further strain an already-stretched health system.