The World Health Organization has just confirmed that the newly-identified cases of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the Democratic Republic of Congo is genetically unrelated to the strain currently circulating in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria.
A WHO collaborating research center in Franceville, Gabon, the Centre International de Recherches Médicales, had previously identified six Ebola positive samples sent to the laboratory. They report today that, “the virus in the Boende district is definitely not derived from the virus strain currently circulating in west Africa.”
The WHO amplified that finding:
“Results from the 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.”
The finding is worthy of such emphasis because of concerns that the west African outbreak had somehow spread to the DRC, formerly Zaire. The viruses in each outbreak are genetically distinct, but they are both of the Zaire species of Ebola virus, a fact that might be confused as meaning the outbreaks are related.
The form of the Zaire virus currently circulating in the DRC is most closely related to one responsible for an outbreak in 1995 in the city of Kikwit. Ebola virus first emerged in the DRC and South Sudan in 1976. The current outbreak in the DRC is the seventh on record.
The index case has been clearly identified as a pregnant woman from Ikanamongo Village who died on August 11 after preparing bushmeat that her husband had hunted.
The means of viral spread, as reported by the WHO, is typical of most Ebola outbreaks: “Local customs and rituals associated with death meant that several health-care workers were exposed and presented with similar symptoms in the following week.”
Thus far, the WHO has identified 53 cases consistent with a diagnosis of Ebola, including 31 deaths. Seven of the dead were healthcare workers.
But the WHO stressed that the outbreak is primarily occurring in a remote region of the DRC, about 750 miles from the capital of Kinshasa.