WHO: Dead game animal sparked DRC Ebola outbreak

Electron micrograph of Ebola viruses
Electron micrograph of Ebola viruses

The Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC's) Ebola outbreak started with a pregnant woman who butchered a game animal, leading to a total of 24 suspected cases and 13 deaths, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced today.

The woman, other patients, and their contacts had no history of travel to West Africa or contact with people from that region, the WHO said, making it unlikely that the DRC outbreak is linked to the big Ebola virus disease (EVD) epidemic there.

"At this time, it is believed that the outbreak in DRC is unrelated to the ongoing outbreak in West Africa," the agency said.

The first case-patient in the DRC outbreak was a pregnant woman from Ikanamongo village, Equateur province, who butchered a bush animal that her husband had killed, the WHO statement said. She fell ill and reported to a private clinic in Isaka village, and on Aug 11 she died of a then-unidentified hemorrhagic fever.

As a result of local customs and rituals associated with death, several healthcare workers were exposed and got sick with similar symptoms in the following week, the agency said.

Tracking 24 suspected cases

The 24 suspected cases occurred between Jul 28 and Aug 18, the statement said. Five healthcare workers who were exposed to the pregnant woman succumbed to fatal illnesses: a doctor and two nurses who were involved in surgery on the woman, plus a hygienist and a ward boy.

Others who died were relatives who tended to the index patient, people who had contact with the clinic staff, and those who handled the bodies of other victims during funerals, the WHO said.

The 24 suspected cases and 13 deaths reported by the WHO match up with numbers given by DRC Health Minister Felix Kabange Numbi on Aug 24, as reported by the media.

The WHO said samples have been sent to laboratories in Kinshasa (the DRC capital) and Gabon to confirm EVD and identify the strain, and results were still being awaited.

The 11 surviving patients were being treated in isolation centers, the agency reported. Meanwhile, the DRC has sent field teams to the area to evaluate the situation, and 80 contacts of the sick and deceased are being monitored.

A WHO rapid response team is ready to deploy and help the DRC if needed, the statement said.

The agency did not mention anything about earlier reports of 70 deaths in the outbreak area, the Boende region. Last week the WHO said those deaths were caused by hemorrhagic gastroenteritis unrelated to Ebola, but on Aug 24 WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said that that conclusion had been based on premature information and that samples had tested positive for Ebola in a DRC lab.

$1.5 million in UN aid

Today the United Nations mission in the DRC said the UN has allocated $1.5 million to help the country fight the outbreak, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report. The amount, which comes from a fund for humanitarian needs, could double in the near future, the story said.

The current outbreak is the seventh in the DRC since EVD was discovered there in 1976.

See also:

Aug 27 WHO statement

Related Aug 25 CIDRAP News story

Aug 27 AFP story

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