One Ebola case has been detected in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), merely five months after the country was declared free of the latest epidemic of the disease.

In a statement, the country’s Health Minister Jean Jacques Mbungani said that a three-year-old boy succumbed to the deadly disease on Wednesday near the eastern city of Beni, one of the epicentres of the 2018-2020 outbreak.

The statement said that about 100 people have been identified, who may have been exposed to the virus. It said that they will remain under monitoring to see if they develop any symptoms.

It is yet to be confirmed if the latest case was related to the 2018-2020 outbreak that killed over 2,200 people in eastern DRC, which remains the second deadliest wave of the virus on record.

An internal report from DRC’s biomedical laboratory said that three of the toddler’s neighbours in Beni’s densely populated Butsili neighbourhood also showed symptoms consistent with Ebola last month and died. The report said that none of the deceased was tested for the virus.

WHO investigating latest case

Meanwhile, in a statement, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that it was working with “health authorities to investigate the case”.

The DRC has endured 12 recorded outbreaks since the disease was first discovered in the equatorial forest near the Ebola River in 1976. The deadly disease causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea, and is spread through contact with body fluids.

Earlier in February, the disease resurfaced in an area of North Kivu. The region recorded the largest outbreak of Ebola in the history of the DRC between August 2018 and June 2020. A total of 3,470 infections and 2,287 deaths were recorded during the outbreak.

New treatments reducing death rate

Health experts say it is not unusual for sporadic cases to occur following a major outbreak. Particles of the virus can remain present in semen for months after recovery from an infection.

The disease typically kills about half of those it infects. However, encouraging new treatments developed in West Africa have significantly reduced death rates when cases are detected early.

Two highly effective vaccines have also been used to contain outbreaks since then.


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