The World Health Organization says the Democratic Republic of the Congo is again facing an outbreak of the contagious and deadly Ebola virus.
Congolese Health Minister Oly Ilunga announced Saturday that three people had died of the virus in the northeast of the country.
Ilunga urged people not to panic and said officials had taken all necessary measures to respond to the outbreak.
The World Health Organization said it was working with Congolese authorities to deploy health workers in the remote area where the three deaths occurred, all on April 22. Eleven other cases are suspected in the area.
WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, went to the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, on Friday to discuss disease response.
The remoteness of the affected area, 1,300 kilometers from Kinshasa, means word of the outbreak was slow to emerge. WHO said specialist teams were expected to arrive in the area, known as the Likati health zone, within the next day or two.
This was the first outbreak of the virus in DRC since 2014, when 49 people died of Ebola.
Experts say the 2014 DRC outbreak was not linked to a much larger outbreak that killed 11,000 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, beginning in 2013. They say active virus transmission for that outbreak was halted last year.
In December 2016, The Lancet, a medical journal, published results of a WHO-led trial showing that the world’s first Ebola vaccine provides substantial protection against the virus. Among more than 11,000 people who were vaccinated in the trial, no cases of Ebola virus disease occurred.
Reports say the vaccine is now awaiting formal licensing clearance.
Ebola, named for the Congolese river near where it was first identified in 1976, begins with a sudden fever, aching muscles, diarrhea and vomiting. It is a hemorrhagic fever, marked by spontaneous bleeding from internal organs and, in most cases, death. It can be transmitted by close contact with infected animals or people, usually through blood or other bodily fluids.
People can contract the virus through direct contact with victims’ bodies at funerals. Caretakers, nurses and doctors treating Ebola patients also are at high risk.