Ebola cases in western Democratic Republic of the Congo have risen to 60 with funerals a particular concern for the spread of the disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday.
WHO emergencies expert Mike Ryan said another three cases were detected at the weekend, making a total of 56 confirmed and four probable infections in an outbreak announced last month in DRC’s Equateur province.
“The disease is active, not controlled,” Ryan told a virtual briefing from the UN agency’s headquarters in Geneva, noting burial practices as a worry.
The outbreak is DRC’s 11th since Ebola was identified in 1976.
Equateur province includes part of the River Congo, a large geographical area where communities are linked across, and people travel, long distances.
It is spreading from Mbandaka’s urban centre to surrounding remote villages in forests along the Congo River, some of which can only be accessed by canoe or all-terrain vehicles.
A separate outbreak of Ebola in Ituri and North Kivu provinces of eastern DRC was declared over last month. That epidemic, the second-largest on record, saw 3,463 confirmed and probable cases and 2,277 deaths over two years.
Health Minister Eteni Longondo called “the longest, most complex and deadliest” outbreak in the country’s history.
The two epidemics have no common viral strain, according to the WHO.
The virus is passed on by contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of an infected or recently deceased person. The death rate is typically high, ranging up to 90 percent in some outbreaks.
DRC is facing a measles outbreak that has killed more than 6,000 people since early last year, as well as recurring flare-ups of cholera and malaria. It is also struggling with the new coronavirus, with 8,249 cases including 193 fatalities.
WHO officials worry that because of these competing health crises, there could be a lack of funding for the Ebola epidemic.