The first case of Ebola has been confirmed in Goma, the biggest city to have been affected by the disease since its outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo last August, the health ministry said on Sunday.
The patient is a pastor who had been preaching in church and would have touched the hands of worshippers “including the sick”, the ministry said in a statement.
His symptoms first appeared last Tuesday in Butembo, one of the main towns touched by Ebola where he had been preaching.
He left by bus on Friday to Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, arriving early on Sunday where “the results of the laboratory test confirmed that he was positive for Ebola”, the ministry said.
“Given that the patient was quickly identified, as well as all the passengers on the bus from Butembo, the risk of the disease spreading in the city of Goma is low,” the ministry said.
The other 18 passengers and the driver will begin getting vaccinations on Monday, it added.
Health workers in Goma were vaccinated as early as December, when the outbreak first hit Butembo some 300km further north.
The two towns are separated by poor roads under the threat of armed groups.
10th outbreak in 40 years
The latest Ebola outbreak in eastern DR Congo has so far killed 1 655 people and 694 have been cured, according to a health ministry bulletin on Saturday.
Additionally, 160 239 people have been vaccinated, it said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) had initially voiced hope it would be able to contain the highly contagious haemorrhagic fever, thanks in part to the new vaccine.
But efforts to tackle the crisis have been hampered both by militia attacks on treatment centres, in which some staff have been killed, and by the hostility of some local people to the medical teams.
Insecurity in the restive region, including a long-standing presence of various rebel groups in Ituri and North Kivu, has also made it difficult for health workers to access those who might have come into contact with Ebola.
The disease spreads among humans through close contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of an infected person, or objects contaminated by such fluids.
The current outbreak is the 10th in DRC in 40 years, putting all of East Africa on alert.
It is already the second deadliest on record globally, after the epidemic that struck West Africa in 2014-2016 and killed more than 11 300 people.