Kinshasa - An outbreak of Ebola fever in the Democratic Republic of Congo may have claimed up to 32 lives since May, including that of a woman who had just given birth, the World Health Organisation said on Tuesday.
By September 15, "a cumulative total of 72 cases was recorded, including 14 cases that were confirmed positive after laboratory analysis, 32 probable cases and 26 suspected cases, while 32 deaths were registered," the WHO announced in Kinshasa.
A baby born prematurely "in the isolation centre in Isiro (the epicentre of the epidemic in northeastern DRC) to a mother infected by the Ebola virus was still alive while his mother died on Saturday," the statement said.
In DRC, which has known eight outbreaks of the often fatal haemorrhagic fever, it was the first time a pregnant woman had a child, because "Ebola and pregnancy are almost incompatible," Health Minister Felix Kabange Numbi said.
To date, there is no treatment nor vaccine for Ebola, which kills between 25% and 90% of patients depending on the strain of the virus. The disease is transmitted by direct contact with blood, faeces and sweat, by sexual contact, and by unprotected handling of contaminated corpses.
According to the WHO, 23 health workers were among the infected people. Five of them died, and 215 people who have been in contact with the sick are under surveillance. The most recent confirmed case of Ebola dates from Friday.
An epidemic was declared in mid-August in Orientale province, but the international committee for the fight against Ebola has carried out research and dated the outbreak back to May.
The ministry of health, the WHO, the Centres for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, and Doctors Without Borders (MSF - Medecins Sans Frontieres) are working in close collaboration to combat the outbreak.