Viral strain: A health worker administers an Ebola vaccination in the port city of Mbandaka, in the DRC, on May 21. Picture: REUTERS
Viral strain: A health worker administers an Ebola vaccination in the port city of Mbandaka, in the DRC, on May 21. Picture: REUTERS

Geneva — Vaccination of health workers against the deadly Ebola virus has begun in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to try to halt an outbreak in the volatile east of the country, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Wednesday.

So far 43 people are believed to have been infected in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, including 36 who have died, the DRC’s health ministry said on Tuesday.

More than 900 contacts of those infected had been identified for monitoring, although security was an issue in the area where militia groups operate, the WHO said.

The disease, which causes fever, vomiting and diarrhoea, is spread through direct contact with body fluids.

"About 40 health workers are expected to be vaccinated today; by the end of the week, once all the necessary steps are in place, vaccination of community contacts and their contacts will commence," WHO spokespersonTarik Jasarevic said.

WHO has said that analysis of genetic sequencing showed it was a new outbreak — separate from the one 2,500km away in the northwest that ended less than two weeks ago after killing 33 — but the same Zaire strain.

The experimental vaccine being used, which is manufactured by Merck, proved successful during its first wide-scale usage against the previous outbreak in Equateur Province.

Reuters