By Fiston Mahamba
GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – A plumber working for the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has tested positive for Ebola, the health ministry said on Friday, the first case of a U.N. worker contracting the disease during the current outbreak.
The plumber is believed to have contracted the virus at a health center in the city of Beni run by a traditional healer where someone with Ebola had sought treatment, the ministry said in a daily bulletin.
The Ebola outbreak in Congo’s eastern borderlands with Uganda and Rwanda has worsened markedly in recent weeks due to community resistance to health workers and insecurity caused by rebel groups active in the area.
The health ministry said five more confirmed cases and five new deaths had been recorded. That brings the total number of deaths to 130 and confirmed or probable cases to 205 since July.
It added that the plumber’s colleagues have registered to be vaccinated on Saturday and have been placed on paid leave for 21 days, the maximum incubation period of the virus.
“A U.N. colleague based in Beni has tested positive for Ebola, and is now receiving the necessary medical treatment,” the head of Congo’s U.N. peacekeeping mission, Leila Zerrougui, wrote in a letter to employees.
She said the employee had not been to work for several weeks and that tracing of the person’s contacts had begun immediately.
U.N. workers have taken an active role in the response to the outbreak, including by providing security to first responders in areas threatened by militia groups.
Ebola is a hemorrhagic fever that spreads through contact with the bodily fluids of its victims and typically kills about half of those it infects.
A senior World Health Organization official told Reuters on Thursday he expected the outbreak to last at least another three or four months and said it could spread to Uganda or Rwanda.
(Writing by Aaron Ross; editing by Kevin Liffey, Andrew Heavens and Chris Reese)