By Giulia Paravicini

KINSHASA (Reuters) – The leading Ebola expert at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Friday he believed an outbreak in Congo can be brought under control quickly and that the high rate of new cases is due largely to improved detection.

The haemorrhagic fever’s outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is believed to have killed 144 people since July and infected another 79, and the rate of new cases has accelerated sharply in recent weeks.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said last week it expected the outbreak to last at least three to four more months and possibly to spread to Uganda and Rwanda due to poor security and locals’ mistrust of health workers.

But Pierre Rollins, who has studied Ebola for three decades, said he thought it could potentially be brought under control within a month or two, as authorities expand their tracing of new patients’ contacts.

“We compared the evolution of this epidemic to other epidemics to see if the increase had been more rapid, and there was no difference,” Rollins said in an interview.

“What happened in the last week is that the health ministry has decided … to research the cases more actively because they would see cases arrive that had no link to patients already treated or registered as known contacts.”

He added that the introduction 10 days ago of a new World Bank-supported program to pay people by mobile phone to report cases has encouraged quicker reporting.

Nevertheless, attacks on health workers have hindered the response and prompted the U.S. government in August to withdraw CDC and USAID workers from the front lines.

Some who stayed in the field have been less upbeat. An emergency committee of WHO experts said on Wednesday that the outbreak was likely to worsen significantly unless the response was stepped up.

Security in eastern Congo is poor due to the presence of dozens of militias that prey on local populations and exploit natural resources.

(Editing by Aaron Ross and Kevin Liffey)