Health officials in Congo said Sunday that a woman had died of the Ebola virus in the city of Butembo, eight months after the worst outbreak in the nation’s history was declared over.
The woman, whose husband survived an Ebola infection during that outbreak, died after seeking treatment at a local health center. The World Health Organization (WHO) said Congo’s National Institute of Biomedical Research in Kinshasa was sequencing samples to determine how the virus she contracted was related to the last outbreak.
It is not uncommon for small flare-ups to occur even after an Ebola outbreak subsides. The virus can remain in bodily fluids of a survivor even months after they have recovered.
But the woman’s infection raises the potential of more cases that may be circulating in North Kivu Province, an impoverished area on the borders of Uganda and Rwanda. The WHO said it had already identified more than 70 people with whom the woman had contact.
Nearly 2,300 people died in the two-year outbreak that exploded in North Kivu and Ituri provinces.
“This resurgence of Ebola is worrying as it comes amidst rising numbers of Covid-19 cases in DR Congo and could fuel existing challenges,” said Whitney Elmer, who runs operations in Congo for the nonprofit group Mercy Corps. “We know that Ebola is endemic in this region, but we cannot take anything for granted and we must take swift action to stop the spread of this new outbreak.”
In Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the agency was rushing vaccines to the region.
The global response to the 2018 outbreak, declared over in June 2020, was one of the most complex operations public health agencies have ever mounted. North Kivu and Ituri provinces are home to dozens of rebel groups who have fought the Congolese government in far-off Kinshasa, and more than a million people have been displaced.