Ebola sleuths scour DR Congo jungle for source of outbreak

IKANAMONGO, RD Congo- Medical sleuths are deep in the jungle of the DR Congo trying to track down the origins of the latest Ebola outbreak in the country.

It is a different strain than the one that has swept three west African countries this year, killing nearly 4,900, and its toll of 49 so far is extremely modest in comparison.

Their all-terrain vehicles bounce along gutted roads in the northwest of the vast country where the outbreak began in late July and has been contained.

Pinning down its source, and learning more about how it acts and develops, are keys to fighting the virus better.

The epidemic in the Lokolia region of Equateur province some 800 kilometres (500 miles) northeast of the capital Kinshasa is the seventh in the country since the virus was first discovered in 1976.

As a result, the DR Congo is more familiar with the disease than the countries engulfed in the current crisis — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — but its secrets persist.

The DR Congo outbreak was initially traced to a woman who died shortly after preparing bush meat that that been hunted by her husband, a pastor.

Today experts are almost certain that she was not the “index case”.

“She was the first person to have tested positive for the disease in the lab, but not the first person to die of it,” Benoit Kebela, an epidemiologist at the DR Congo health ministry, told AFP.

Kebela, who recently spent some time helping out in Guinea, is a veteran of several Ebola epidemics in the DR Congo.

Around 15 kilometres (nine miles) southwest of Lokolia, three doctors get out of the vehicle in Ikanamongo, a village of a few cinder-block houses with roofs fashioned from tree branches.

A few dozen people rush to meet the team, but they keep their distance to avoid any possible contamination.