Unsafe burial of a 65-year-old Ebola sufferer triggered the latest outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Cases confirmed just 10 days after the epidemic was declared over

  • Seven of the deceased woman’s immediate family members have died
  • Ten people who lived nearby to the dead woman are suspected sufferers
  • Outbreak that started in early May and killed 33 people was declared over
  • New outbreak is the 10th in DRC’s history; twice as many as any other region
  • WHO officials state ‘we will fight this outbreak as we did the last’
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The unsafe burial of a 65-year-old Ebola sufferer triggered the latest outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Ebola can spread through an infected person’s saliva, blood, faeces or vomit. If buried by loved ones, they may have caught the virus from bodily fluids on the dead woman’s body. 

The WHO’s emergency response chief Peter Salama claims seven of the deceased woman’s immediate family have died from the viral infection, while 10 people who live nearby are suspected to be suffering. 

This comes just 10 days after the DRC’s health minister Dr Oly Ilunga Kalenga declared the outbreak that started in early May and killed 33 people was over.

At the time, Dr Stacey Mearns, senior health coordinator of the International Rescue Committee’s emergency response team, warned: ‘It’s always good to see the end of an outbreak, but it’s certainly not the end of Ebola in Congo. Ebola is endemic here.’

The latest cases have been confirmed in and near a town called Mangina, which is around 62 miles (100km) from the border with Uganda in the country’s north-east, with suspected cases in the local town of Beni and neighbouring Ituri province. 

This new outbreak will be the 10th in DRC’s history; more than twice as many as any other country.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, said: ‘We will fight this one as we did the last.’

The unsafe burial of a 65-year-old Ebola sufferer triggered the latest outbreak in the DRC (Pictured: Health workers with a girl suffering from Ebola in Liberia in 2014)

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‘We will fight this one as we did the last’ 

Experts from DRC’s health ministry arrived in the nearby city of Beni yesterday, with the WHO moving supplies to the area.

Mr Ghebreyesus said: ‘Ebola is a constant threat in DRC. What adds to our confidence in the country’s ability to respond is the transparency they have displayed once again.’  

Dr Kalenga added: ‘Although we did not expect to face a 10th epidemic so early, the detection of the virus is an indicator of the proper functioning of the surveillance system.’


DRC escaped the brutal Ebola pandemic that began in 2014, which was finally declared over in January 2016 – but it was struck by a smaller outbreak last year.

Four DRC residents died from the virus in 2017. The outbreak lasted just 42 days and international aid teams were praised for their prompt responses.

The new outbreak is the DRC’s ninth since the discovery of Ebola in the country in 1976.

Health experts credit an awareness of the disease among the population and local medical staff’s experience treating for past successes containing its spread.

DRC’s vast, remote geography also gives it an advantage, as outbreaks are often localised and relatively easy to isolate.

Travel into and out of Mangina has been blocked to try to contain the virus, and governor of the North Kivu region, Julien Paluku, has called on residents to remain calm.

DRC’s east is volatile, with dozens of rebel groups staging attacks and vying for mineral-rich land. The ministry put security in place to protect the deployed healthcare workers and general population.

Ebola in Congo ‘reminiscent’ of 2014 disaster 

This year’s Ebola outbreaks follow a devastating spread of the disease between 2013 and 2016, which killed 11,300 people in the West African countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. 

There were fears the last outbreak, in Mbandaka and Bikoro, would spread to the port city of Kinshasa.

At the time Dr Derek Gatherer, a virologist from Lancaster University, warned the case was ‘reminiscent’ of the 2014 Ebola pandemic.

In an editorial for a scientific journal, Dr Gatherer wrote: ‘The current outbreak has the potential for rapid expansion in numbers.

He added: ‘Mbandaka is a port on the River Congo, the main arterial transport link from DRC’s capital Kinshasa to inland cities.

‘With poor to non-existent provision of running water, sewage and electricity, the similarities with the urban situation… during the west African outbreak are obvious.’

‘The risk of transmission to Kinshasa – central Africa’s main megacity – either by river or by air from Mbandaka’s regional airport, is a major concern.’   

Much quicker aid response

The 2014 international response to the Ebola pandemic drew criticism for moving too slowly and prompted an apology from the WHO.

Speaking of the ‘eliminated’ outbreak, Dr Ibrahima Soce Fall, regional emergencies director in Africa for the WHO, called DRC’s response vastly improved after the devastating outbreak in West Africa that killed more than 11,300 people between 2014 and 2016.

Congolese and international health officials were praised for a quick response to the last outbreak.

They praised a still-experimental jab, known as rVSV-ZEBOV, for containing the virus, with the vaccine being given to hundreds of locals and frontline health workers in Bikoro, Iboko and Mbandaka.

There are no proven Ebola vaccines, however, the rVSV-ZEBOV has been shown to be effective in trials in Guinea during the pandemic. 


Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever, killed at least 11,000 across the world after it decimated West Africa and spread rapidly over the space of two years.

That pandemic was officially declared over back in January 2016, when Liberia was announced to be Ebola-free by the WHO.

The country, rocked by back-to-back civil wars that ended in 2003, was hit the hardest by the fever, with 40 per cent of the deaths having occurred there.

Sierra Leone reported the highest number of Ebola cases, with nearly of all those infected having been residents of the nation.


An analysis, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found the outbreak began in Guinea – which neighbours Liberia and Sierra Leone.

A team of international researchers were able to trace the pandemic back to a two-year-old boy in Meliandou – about 400 miles (650km) from the capital, Conakry.

Emile Ouamouno, known more commonly as Patient Zero, may have contracted the deadly virus by playing with bats in a hollow tree, a study suggested.


Figures show nearly 29,000 people were infected from Ebola – meaning the virus killed around 40 per cent of those it struck.

Cases and deaths were also reported in Nigeria, Mali and the US – but on a much smaller scale, with 15 fatalities between the three nations.

Health officials in Guinea reported a mysterious bug in the south-eastern regions of the country before the WHO confirmed it was Ebola. 

Ebola was first identified by scientists in 1976, but the most recent outbreak dwarfed all other ones recorded in history, figures show.


Scientists believe Ebola is most often passed to humans by fruit bats, but antelope, porcupines, gorillas and chimpanzees could also be to blame.

It can be transmitted between humans through blood, secretions and other bodily fluids of people – and surfaces – that have been infected.


The WHO warns that there is ‘no proven treatment’ for Ebola – but dozens of drugs and jabs are being tested in case of a similarly devastating outbreak.

Hope exists though, after an experimental vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV, protected nearly 6,000 people. The results were published in The Lancet journal. 

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