GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – A fourth case of Ebola has been confirmed in the eastern Congo city of Goma, the government said late on Thursday, raising fears of an acceleration in infections close to the border with Rwanda.
The new case is the wife of a miner who died of the virus earlier this week and who only sought treatment more than a week after starting to show symptoms, authorities said.
“This time … the individual concerned spent time with his family and spent time [being] very symptomatic within the community. So we did expect further cases and we are seeing further cases,” said Margaret Harris, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization (WHO).
One of the couple’s daughters has also tested positive for Ebola though the government said on Friday two others were negative in preliminary checks. More than 200 people who came into contact with the man have been tracked and 160 of them vaccinated.
An outbreak on Ebola has killed more than 1,800 people in other parts of Democratic Republic of Congo since it was declared one year ago, making it the second-worst on record. Two people have died in Uganda, which also borders Congo, but no registered cases have occurred in Rwanda.
Fears the disease was gaining a foothold in Goma, a city of 1 million people, had subsided after its first case emerged in July but was not immediately followed by more. The new cases confirmed this week were not linked to that first case, authorities said.
Nestled in hilly country at the foot of an active volcano, Goma lies just 7 km (4.5 miles) from Rwanda’s main border town of Gisenyi.
On Thursday, Rwanda briefly shut its border crossings with Congo around the city, after the new cases emerged.
Increased health screenings caused traffic slowdowns at the border, Rwandan Health Minister Diane Gashumba said, hours after Congolese traders had reported it shut. About 45,000 people a day go through the main border post, an immigration official said.
In July, the outbreak was declared an international health emergency by the WHO, but the body said there should be no trade or travel restrictions.
“When you close borders… two things happen: first you get panic, people see this as a signal to start panicking,” Harris told reporters in Geneva.
“Secondly, people who do have symptoms go underground. Because they don’t want to be seen and they do want to continue their daily lives, and so we are even less likely to detect where this virus is moving,” she added.
(Reporting by Fiston Mahamba in Goma, Anna Pujol-Mazzini in Dakar and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; editing by Alison Williams, Larry King and Andrew Heavens)