Ebola outbreak fears as four new cases confirmed in Congo – days after new species of disease is discovered

Officials said there's no indication the latest cases are related to the outbreak which killed 33 people in the north west of the country and only declared over last week.

The health ministry said twenty people have already died from hemorrhagic fevers in and around Mangina, near the Ugandan border, without saying when the deaths occurred.

A team of 12 experts from Congo's health ministry will arrive in the nearby city of Beni, today to set up a mobile lab, the ministry said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Twitter: "We will fight this one as we did the last."

The region they are heading to has deep security problems, which could complicate efforts to contain the virus.

About 1,000 civilians have been killed by armed groups and government soldiers around Beni since 2014, and the wider region of North Kivu holds over 1 million displaced people.

Peter Salama, WHO deputy director-general of emergency preparedness and response, said: "This is an active conflict zone. The major barrier will be safely accessing the affected population."

Jeremy Konyndyk, an aid expert at the Center for Global Development, said other recent Ebola outbreaks had fortunately been in relatively safe and stable areas.

He said: "North Kivu is a different story, which makes me a little nervous."

The area also has strong trade with neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda, raising the risk of the virus moving internationally.

Julie Hall, chief of staff at the International Federation of the Red Cross, said the Ebola response in North Kivu would be a "highly complex" operation.

The ministry said no evidence linked this outbreak with the last one, which began in April and occurred more than 1,553 miles away in northwestern Congo.

It only declared the end of that outbreak on July 24 after 54 reported cases, including 33 deaths.

Health officials said a quick international response and vaccinations of more than 3,300 people were major factors in containing the outbreak.

Health Minister Dr Oly Ilunga Kalenga said: "Although we did not expect to face a tenth epidemic so early, the detection of the virus is an indicator of the proper functioning of the surveillance system."

This is the central African country's 10th outbreak since 1976, when the virus was discovered near the eponymous Ebola river in the north. That is more than twice as many as any other country.

Ebola is believed to be spread over long distances by bats and can turn up in bush meat sold at food markets throughout Congo.

KILLER VIRUS: What is Ebola?

The Ebola virus, also known as Ebola virus disease – previously called Ebola haemorrhagic fever – is a disease that occurs in humans and primates.

The virus is part of the Filoviridae family, which also includes Marburg virus.

To date, scientists have identified five strains of Ebola – four of which are known to cause disease in humans.

The natural reservoir – or host of the virus – is thought to be the fruit bat.

Non-human primates are a secondary host, and like humans develop fatal symptoms, so are unlikely to be the reservoir.

In spite of the epidemic that swept West Africa from 2013 to 2015, scientists class Ebola as a virus that has a relatively low infection rate.

During that, the most recent and most widespread outbreak, one Ebola patient would typically pass the disease on to another two people.

That is compared with a disease like measles where one case can often lead to 18 new infections.

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.

Congolese and international health officials were credited with responding rapidly to the last outbreak, including by deploying an experimental vaccine manufactured by Merck, one of several vaccines being developed against Ebola.

But the Merck vaccine is designed to be used against the Zaire strain of Ebola, and there has been no confirmation of the strain in the latest outbreak, with the WHO calling it only "presumptive Ebola".

It comes just days after Sierra Leone's government announced researchers had discovered a new species of Ebola in bats, named Bombali after the region in which it was found.

The virus has not yet been identified in humans, but could still pose a health risk.

Amara Jambai, a senior ministry of health official, said: “At this time, it is not yet known if the Bombali Ebola virus has been transmitted to people or if it causes disease in people.

“But it has the potential to infect human cells.”

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