Lab results have confirmed a deadly illness outbreak in southeastern Congo as Ebola fever, officials said Monday.
The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta and another lab in Gabon confirmed the disease as a hemorrhagic fever, and specifically as Ebola, Health Minister Makwenge Kaput said on national television. He did not provide further details.
More than 160 people have died of the illness in the affected region since late August and nearly 400 have been infected, said Jean-Constatin Kanow, the chief medical inspector for the province.
He said the infections were mostly in two district areas — one called Mweka and the other Luebo, adding that the majority of the deaths occurred at the beginning of the outbreak.
"The number of sick continues to climb, but the deaths are decreasing because they are being taken care of by medical teams on the ground," Kanow said.
Medical inspectors had previously said that people began dying after high-profile funerals of two village chiefs in the region where relatives usually wash the bodies of the deceased by hand.
Ebola is spread through direct contact with the blood or secretions of an infected person, or objects that have been contaminated with infected secretions. It is not known where the initial infection came from, though medical researchers say it is likely from contact with an infected animal.
In the past, Congo has seen large outbreaks of Marburg and Ebola, both hemorrhagic fevers caused by viruses that, in severe cases, attack the central nervous system and cause bleeding from the eyes, ears and other parts of the body.
Congo's last major Ebola outbreak struck in Kikwit in 1995, killing 245 people. Kikwit is about 185 miles from the site of the current outbreak.