Ebola Epidemic in West Africa Not Linked to Congo Outbreak

November 18, 2014
Meghan Ross, Associate Editor

The current Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo stems from a different strain of the virus than the outbreak wreaking havoc on West Africa, according to data from a French research organization.

The current Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) stems from a different strain of the virus than the outbreak wreaking havoc on West Africa, according to data from a French research organization, Institut de recherché pour le développement (IRD).

The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a related situation assessment on the 2 Ebola strains, emphasizing that there was no link between them.

“Results from virus characterization, together with findings from the epidemiological investigation, are definitive: The outbreak in DRC is a distinct and independent event, with no relationship to the outbreak in West Africa,” a report from WHO stated.

The Congolese strain appears to be similar to the virus that affected DRC and Gabon in the mid-1990s, according to the IRD. The virus is the Zaire species, according to the WHO’s virological analysis.

The discovery of a second strain adds to concerns surrounding the spread of disease and fears that it could reach Central Africa.

However, the IRD praised the actions of Congolese health authorities in preventing a greater epidemic. For example, authorities isolated patients from the public, protected their medical staff, and taught the public to avoid body contact. The WHO also extolled the government’s efforts, such as making sure all burials would be safe.

The area with the biggest Ebola concentration is located hundreds of miles away from the capital city of Kinshasa, and there are no paved roads that connect the capital to the outbreak zone in the Boende district, according to the WHO.

According to the IRD, the Congolese Ebola outbreak began in July 2014, when a woman became sick after cutting up a dead monkey, or “bushmeat,” found in the forest. The WHO confirmed that the original patient, who died August 11, 2014, had been preparing the monkey for consumption.

“This recent rise in Ebola epidemics shows that the likelihood of the virus being passed on from animal reservoir to humans is increasing,” the IRD article stated. “We therefore urgently need to gain a better understanding of the ways in which the virus circulates (seasonal or other) within its natural reservoir and the factors that govern the virus' transfer from 1 animal species to another or to humans. Better knowledge of these parameters would enable alert thresholds to be defined and epidemics to be predicted, which could prove invaluable to the rapid implementation of control measures.”

As of November 9, 2014, there have been 49 deaths in the Congo related to Ebola, according to International SOS. The fatality rate hovers around 60%, which is comparable with the West African rate, the IRD reported. According to the WHO, some of the individuals who died were health care workers.