Four people have tested positive for Ebola in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo just days after another outbreak that killed 33 people in the northwest was declared over, the health ministry said on Wednesday.
Twenty people have already died from hemorrhagic fevers in and around Mangina, a densely populated town about 30 km (18 miles) southwest of the city of Beni and 100 km from the Ugandan border, the ministry said in its statement, without saying when the deaths occurred.
The ministry said no evidence linked this outbreak with the last one, which began in April and occurred over 2,500 km (1,553 miles) away in northwestern Congo .
But the latest flare-up is a reminder of how elusive the virus can be, especially in the teeming equatorial forests of Congo where it finds a natural home.
This is the central African country’s 10th outbreak since 1976, when the virus was discovered near the eponymous river in the north. That is more than twice as many as any other country.
It is believed to be spread over long distances by bats and can turn up in bush meat, available at food markets throughout Congo. Once present in humans, it causes hemorrhagic fever, vomiting and diarrhoea and is spread through direct contact with body fluids.
An outbreak concentrated in the West African countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea killed at least 11,300 people between 2013 and 2016.
A team of 12 experts from Congo’s health ministry will arrive in Beni on Thursday to set up a mobile lab, the ministry said.
Congolese and international health officials were credited with responding rapidly to the last outbreak, including by deploying an experimental vaccine manufactured by Merck.
That and aggressive tracing of people who had come into contact with Ebola patients helped contain the virus’ spread after it reached a large river port city.