KINSHASA Democratic Republic of Congo has sent its health minister and a team of experts to the remote northern Equateur province after several people died there from a disease with Ebola-like symptoms, a local official and a professor said on Wednesday.
It was not immediately clear if there was any connection with Ebola. An epidemic of that disease has killed more than 1,200 people in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
"An illness is spreading in Boende but we don't know the origin," said Michel Wangi, a spokesman for the governor's office. "The government has sent a team of experts from the INRB(National Institute of Biomedical Research) this morning led by the health minister (Felix) Kabange Numbi and acting governor Sebastian Impeto."
A professor accompanying the delegation in the presidential plane confirmed that they were en route this morning to find out "the exact nature of the illness that caused the Boende deaths".
An Equateur resident who asked not to be named said that around ten people had died, including four health care workers, after suffering from fever, diarrhoea and bleeding from the ears and nostrils - all symptoms of the deadly Ebola virus.
Highly-contagious, Ebola can kill up to 90 percent of its victims. There is no known vaccine and the few forms of treatment that exist are experimental.
Congo does not share a border with any of the countries affected by the virus in West Africa. But the country has seen several outbreaks since the first case was detected near the Ebola River in northern Congo in 1976.
(Reporting by Bienvenu Bakumanya; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by John Stonestreet and Sonya Hepinstall)