Militia violence in Democratic Republic of Congo has prevented aid workers from reaching some potential cases in an outbreak of Ebola that has so far killed 47 people, the World Health Organization said on Friday.
Over 2,000 people have been potentially exposed to the virus that began in North Kivu province, but the violence means officials cannot be sure if they have identified all the chains by which it is spreading in the east of the vast country.
“We don’t know if we are having all transmission chains identified. We expect to see more cases as a result of earlier infections and these infections developing into illness,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told a news briefing in Geneva.
“The worst-case scenario is that we have these security blind spots where the epidemic could take hold that we don’t know about,” he said.
Congo’s Health Ministry said confirmed and probable cases numbered 87 in total, including 47 deaths. About 2,150 people have been identified as contacts of people infected with the disease, which causes fever, vomiting and diarrhea.
Health workers “have a huge amount of work to do to follow up on these contacts, to continue the investigations and the active search for cases, as well as to prepare the ground for the vaccination teams,” the ministry said in a statement late on Friday.
The outbreak is spreading across the lush farmlands of eastern Congo. Its epicenter is the town of Mangina in North Kivu province and it has already reached neighboring Ituri province.
Congo has experienced 10 Ebola outbreaks since the virus was discovered on the Ebola River in 1976, altogether killing some 900 people.
An epidemic between 2013 and 2016 killed more than 11,300 people in West Africa.