Illness that has killed at least 70 in Congo is not Ebola, says WHO

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 August, 2014, 11:22pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 August, 2014, 5:24pm

At least 70 people have died in the northern Democratic Republic of Congo from an outbreak of haemorrhagic gastroenteritis, the World Health Organisation said, denying the illness was Ebola.

A WHO report said that 592 people had contracted the disease, of whom 70 died. Five health care workers, including one doctor, are among the dead.

"This is not Ebola," a WHO spokesman said on Thursday.

A local priest who asked not to be named said that the illness had affected several villages and estimated that the death toll was over 100 people.

Kinshasa sent its health minister, Felix Kabange Numbi, and a team of experts to the region on Wednesday.

The outbreak began in the remote jungle province of Equateur where the first case of Ebola was reported in 1976, prompting speculation that it was the same illness that has killed more than 1,350 people in an outbreak in West Africa.

Symptoms of the two diseases are similar; they include vomiting, diarrhoea and internal bleeding. But the fatality rate for this outbreak of haemorrhagic gastroenteritis is much lower than the West Africa Ebola outbreak, at 12 per cent versus close to 60 per cent.

The WHO, which sent representatives to the area on Wednesday, said four samples would be flown from the town of Boende to Kinshasa for further testing.

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said it had also sent a team to Equateur province to assess the situation. MSF said it was too early to confirm what the disease was.