New Ebola strain in DRC likely deadly, says WHO

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"We know for example that there have been around 20 deaths", Dr. Peter Salama, Deputy Director General of Emergency Preparedness and Response, told journalists in Geneva. The WHO will rely on the United Nations peacekeeping mission based out of North Kivu's capital Goma and DRC's government to assess how to safely travel, Salama said.

Ebola is a virus-caused hemorrhagic fever that in extreme cases causes fatal bleeding from internal organs, the mouth, eyes or ears.

Officials said it was not yet clear whether the two Congo outbreaks separated by more than 2,500 kilometres are linked.

"We really need to get into the area to do epidemiological investigations, try to find cases, try to work with health workers, to strengthen infection prevention and control measures and also to start with the contact tracing", he said.

The outbreak in North Kivu in eastern DRC was declared a week after World Health Organization and the Kinshasa government hailed the end of an Ebola flare-up in north-western Equateur province, which killed 33 people. The discovery should help end the strain quickly since the vaccine is the greatest weapon against Ebola to date.

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The Ebola virus disease is transmitted to people from animals and further transmitted from people to people. "Beni has been deeply unstable for the past few years due to armed conflict and Ebola poses a serious risk to communities already on the edge and threatens our ability to help them".

Ebola is only one of the numerous and serious humanitarian crises to which millions of people in the DRC are exposed. "On the scale of degree of difficulty, trying to extinguish an outbreak of a deadly high-threat pathogen in a warzone reaches the top of any of our scales".

One immediate priority is to confirm whether the latest outbreak involves the Zaire strain, since this can be treated with the same vaccine that was employed in Equateur province.

A health worker is believed to be among the dead, Salama said. "The bad news is that this strain of Ebola carries with it the highest case-fatality-rate of any of the strains of Ebola, anywhere above 50 per cent and higher, according to previous outbreaks". Even in the modern day world, there is no licensed treatment to neutralise the Ebola virus. "The good news is that we do have - although it's still an investigational product - a safe and effective vaccine, that we were able to deploy last time around".