KINSHASA (AFP) - The Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday confirmed its first two cases this year of Ebola but claimed they were unrelated to the epidemic ravaging West Africa.
"The results are positive. The Ebola virus is confirmed in DRC," Health Minister Felix Kabange Numbi told AFP, referring to tests undertaken on people after an unidentified fever killed 13 in the northwest Equateur province this month.
"After analysing eight samples taken in the field, the National Institute of Biomedical Research has just confirmed that two of those samples test positive for Ebola," Kabanga said later on public television.
He said the confirmation marked the seventh outbreak of Ebola in DR Congo, where the virus was first identified in 1976 near the Ebola River.
The two new cases had "no link to [the epidemic] raging in West Africa," Kabange said, adding that further tests were under way.
"The experience gained during the six past Ebola epidemics will be put to use to contain the illness," he said.
Kabange said the outbreak was "contained" in the area near Jera, more than 1,200km north-east of the Congolese capital Kinshasa.
Ebola was first identified in 1976 in Equateur province in what was once the former Zaire and as well as in a separate outbreak in Sudan.
Earlier this week Kabange had announced the deaths of 13 people with haemorrhagic symptoms, and had said dozens of others who had come into contact with them were being monitored.
Congolese authorities have recently taken preventive health measures, including provisions for the safe burial of infected corpses and strict control of passengers arriving from affected countries.
Ebola is spread by contact with an infected person's bodily fluids, such as sweat and blood, and no cure or vaccine is currently available.
The World Health Organisation said Friday that the death toll had risen to 1,427, all of them in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.