KINSHASA, Congo — Health authorities are investigating nine suspected cases of Ebola in a remote corner of northern Congo, including three deaths, the country's health minister and the World Health Organization said Friday.
One case of the hemorrhagic fever has been confirmed out of the five tested since the outbreak emerged April 22 in Bas-Uele province, Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga said. He said the confirmed case was of the Zaire strain of the virus.
The outbreak could test a recently developed experimental Ebola vaccine that WHO says could be used in emergencies. The global vaccine alliance GAVI said 300,000 doses are available "if needed to stop this outbreak becoming a pandemic."
This vast, impoverished Central African nation has had seven known previous Ebola outbreaks, including one in 2014 with several dozen cases. That outbreak was not connected to the massive epidemic in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone that left thousands dead.
Dr. Allarangar Yokouide, the WHO representative in Congo, said the first teams of specialists should arrive in the affected area of Likati on Friday or Saturday. The zone is some 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) from the capital, Kinshasa.
"The area in Likati is difficult to access, but the work of tracing contacts is very crucial to stopping the epidemic in its tracks," he said. The community is near the border with Central African Republic.
Ebola occasionally jumps to humans from animals including bats and monkeys. Without preventive measures, the virus can spread quickly between people and is fatal in up to 90 percent of cases. There is no specific treatment for the disease.
The new cluster of Ebola cases will again test one of the world's least equipped health systems. The U.S. Agency for International Development has said an estimated 70 percent of the population has little or no access to health care.
"We urge you not to give in to panic," Congo's health minister said.
Associated Press Medical Writer Maria Cheng in London and Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed.