Two Ebola deaths have been confirmed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the health minister of the Central African country said, though local officials believe the cases are unrelated to the outbreak in West Africa that has killed more than 1,400 people..
Felix Kabange Numbi said on Sunday that two of eight samples from the northwest Equateur province came back positive for the deadly disease.
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Numbi said Congolese officials believe Ebola had killed 13 people in the region, including five health workers.
He said 11 people were sick and in isolation and that 80 contacts were being traced, the Associated Press reported.
“I declare an Ebola epidemic in the region of Djera, in the territory of Boende in the province of Equateur,” Numbi said.
However, Numbi said the infections were of a different strain than those in the outbreak in West Africa that has killed more than 1,400 people since March.
One of the two cases that tested positive was for the Sudanese strain of the disease, while the other was a mixture between the Sudanese and the Zaire strain – the most lethal variety, the health official said.
The outbreak in West Africa is the Zaire strain.
The samples were from the region where the World Health Organisation (WHO) said an outbreak of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis has killed 70 people in recent weeks.
The WHO said last week those deaths were not Ebola-related, but WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said by email on Sunday that the information was the result of “miscommunication from the field”.
A WHO spokesperson said the UN health agency could not confirm the results of the tests announced on Sunday, which were carried out by the Congolese authorities.
Congo has been hit by Ebola outbreaks seven times before, but the two deaths are the first ones in recent times.
A total of 2,615 Ebola infections and 1,427 deaths have been recorded in the outbreak now hitting West Africa, according to figures released on Friday by the WHO.
Sierra Leone has been hardest-hit, with at least 910 cases and 392 deaths. Other affected countries include Guinea, Liberia and Nigeria.