The World Health Organization (WHO) issued an alert on Tuesday requesting more doctors and other experts to travel to the south-eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to combat an outbreak of Ebola, a highly contagious fever that kills up to 90 percent of people infected and has no cure or treatment.
Experts from Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) are already treating patients, but more help was needed. The Congolese government declared a quarantine of the area Tuesday, spokesman Toussaint Tshilobo said.
The United States' Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and another lab in Gabon confirmed the disease as a haemorrhagic fever, and specifically as Ebola, Health Minister Makwenge Kaput said on national television Monday. He did not provide further details.
According to WHO, five samples have tested positive for Ebola. About 40 more samples are still pending.
Already 167 fatalities
At least 167 people have died in the affected region over about four months and nearly 400 have fallen ill, said Jean-Constatin Kanow, the chief medical inspector for the DRC’s Kasai Oriental Province. Kinshasa, the capital, is 690 km northwest of the area.
Some of the patients have improved after being given antibiotics, which would have no impact on Ebola, WHO experts said. The experts said that led them to suspect that shigella, a diarrhoea-like disease, or typhoid has broken out in the same area. Symptoms for the three diseases are similar in early stages. In severe cases of shigella and typhoid, haemorrhaging can also occur.
In the Congolese hospital where patients were being treated - a mud hut with a corrugated roof - patients are not being isolated. That means that patients who have shigella, which is not usually a fatal disease, might be mixed with those who have Ebola, putting them at risk of catching the highly fatal fever.
"There's no way we can be sure at this time how many cases are shigella and how many cases are Ebola," said Gregory Hartl, a WHO spokesman.
Infections on the increase
Kanow, the medical inspector, said the infections were mostly in two districts - one called Mweka and the other Luebo, adding that the majority of the deaths occurred at the beginning of the outbreak.
"The number of sick continues to climb, but the deaths are decreasing because they are being taken care of by medical teams on the ground," Kanow said.
Ebola is spread through direct contact with the blood or secretions of an infected person, or objects that have been contaminated with infected secretions. It is not known where the initial infection came from, though medical researchers say it is likely from contact with an infected animal.
In the past, Congo has seen large outbreaks of Marburg and Ebola, both hemorrhagic fevers caused by viruses that, in severe cases, attack the central nervous system and cause bleeding from the eyes, ears and other parts of the body. – (Sapa)
Congo: Ebola outbreak confirmed