Congo and WHO investigate possible Ebola outbreak

Response teams were sent to Masambio on Thursday to collect samples for testing.

FILE: Response teams were sent to Masambio on Thursday to collect samples for testing. Picture: AFP

KINSHASA - Health officials in Democratic Republic of Congo are investigating a possible outbreak of Ebola in a village about 270km northeast of the capital Kinshasa, the government and the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday.

Health minister Felix Kabange said that response teams arrived in Masambio, a village in Bandundu province, on Thursday to collect samples for testing.

Kabange said that six hunters fell ill on Friday with symptoms of Ebola including diarrhea, vomiting and bloody urine after killing an antelope the day before that had been stumbling and was probably sick. Four of the hunters have since died.

However, he said that none suffered from a fever, the earliest and most common symptom of the disease, suggesting that they may have suffered only from food poisoning.

The samples would return to Kinshasa for testing either Thursday night or Friday morning, Kabange said. But he cautioned that it would be too early to render a definitive judgment since the disease's typical incubation period is between seven and 15 days.

Congo has seen periodic outbreaks of the disease, which since December 2013 has killed more than 11,200 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea in the worst Ebola epidemic on record.

A three-month outbreak that killed 49 people late last year in the remote forests of northwestern Congo was not related to the West African epidemic.

The outbreak in Congo was thought to have started when a hunter brought home an infected bush animal carcass.

Eugene Kabambi, a WHO spokesman in Congo, said teams from his organization had been dispatched to Masambio but emphasized that Ebola was only one possibility.