KINSHASA – The health ministry of the Democratic Republic of Congo raised on Monday the number of deaths confirmed to have been caused by the Ebola virus in an ongoing outbreak in the northwest of the country to 14.
A total of 66 cases have been reported, of which 38 have been confirmed, 14 are probable and 14 suspected in the rural regions of Bikoro and Iboko and the city of Mbandaka – the three areas worst affected by the outbreak –, the ministry said in a statement on Sunday night.
The total number of deaths is 28, with 14 of those confirmed to be from Ebola.
The health ministry, along with the World Health Organization, nonprofit Doctors Without Borders and other international bodies, has been carrying out a vaccination campaign in the three areas for the last two weeks, immunizing 2,221 people.
The vaccine being used is VSV-EBOV, an experimental treatment tested in Guinea after the 2014-2016 epidemic and developed by United States pharmaceutical company Merck.
It is the only experimental vaccine to be authorized by the Scientific Committee and the Ethics Committee of the DR Congo, although the use of five as-yet unlicensed drugs is also being considered.
This is the ninth Ebola outbreak in the African country since the virus was first discovered there in 1976, when it was known as Zaire.
The disease, which is transmitted through direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of infected people or animals, is widely feared for its mortality rate of up to 90 percent and for causing heavy internal and external bleeding as the virus severely damages blood vessels.
Early symptoms of the virus include sudden high fever, intense weakness and muscle pain, headaches and a sore throat as well as vomiting.
The worst Ebola epidemic to date ravaged several West African nations in 2014 after it broke out in December 2013 in Guinea and expanded into Sierra Leone and Liberia, with minor outbreaks elsewhere.
The WHO marked the end of the epidemic in January 2016 after 11,300 deaths and more than 28,500 Ebola-confirmed cases, although it has said these could be conservative figures.