Ebola hits Congo days after last outbreak ended

Ebola hits Congo days after last outbreak ended
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At least 20 people are dead amid a new outbreak of the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, just days after the country's Ministry of Health declared the last outbreak officially over.

The Health Ministry said Wednesday that local officials in North Kivu Province had sounded warnings over the weekend when they discovered 26 cases of what appeared to be a hemorrhagic fever.

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Health officials flew six blood samples to the capital of Kinshasa, where four tested positive for the Ebola virus.

The ministry said a team of 12 virus hunters would arrive in Beni, a city of about a quarter million residents near the epicenter of the outbreak, by Thursday.

They said the fact that they had caught the virus so early showed that preparations for combatting the deadly disease had been effective.

"As Ebola Virus Disease is endemic in several parts of the country due to the equatorial forest ecosystem, the Ministry of Health has already strengthened its epidemiological surveillance system in all risk areas, including North Kivu," the ministry said in a statement. "Although we did not expect to face a tenth epidemic so early, the detection of the virus is an indicator of the proper functioning of the surveillance system put in place."

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has experienced nine outbreaks of the Ebola virus since 1976, when the nation was called Zaire. The latest, in the Equateur Province along the Congo River, killed 33 people over the last few months.

The Health Ministry and the World Health Organization (WHO) said only last week that the outbreak had been officially contained.

Hundreds of health-care workers and virus hunters from groups including Doctors Without Borders, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the WHO descended on Equateur Province to stop Ebola's spread after the outbreak was formally declared in May.

It is highly unlikely that the last outbreak and the current situation are related. Equateur Province and North Kivu Province are separated by 1,500 miles of dense jungle. The Ministry of Health said there is no evidence that the two outbreaks are connected.