The World Health Organization Friday confirmed the Ebola virus had killed three people in the south of the Democratic Republic of Congo and said more deaths were being investigated.
Earlier this week, WHO officials said diseases other than Ebola were likely making people sick in the region as well as Ebola, a frightening and often fatal virus.
WHO said laboratories had only confirmed Ebola infection in three of the cases.
"WHO is aware of 36 additional suspected cases including 12 deaths associated with this outbreak. A further 184 contacts have been identified and are being followed up," WHO said in a statement.
Auguste Mopipi Mukulumanya, health minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, said on Dec. 25 that analysis of blood and stool samples taken in the village of Kalwamba at the heart of the apparent outbreak had shown that an Ebola epidemic was under way.
The virus, which is highly contagious via bodily fluids and causes severe vomiting, diarrhea and often internal and external bleeding, was first reported in the area on November 27.
There is no cure for Ebola, which kills 50 to 90 percent of its victims.
In 1995, a major Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, then known as Zaire, killed 250 of the 315 people known to have been infected, including health workers who touched infected blood.