KINSHASA/DAKAR, Aug 26 (Reuters) - Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the leading organisation in fighting Ebola, said on Tuesday it could provide only limited support to tackle a new outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo as it was already overstretched by the worst ever epidemic.
Congo declared an Ebola outbreak on Sunday and announced plans to quarantine the area around the town of Djera where a high number of suspected cases has been reported. It is Congo's seventh outbreak since the deadly hemorrhagic fever was discovered in 1976 in the same isolated northwestern jungle province, Equateur.
MSF said that four of its samples had tested positive for the virus, without specifying whether these were in addition to two cases already confirmed by the government at the weekend.
"Usually, we would be able to mobilise specialist hemorrhagic fever teams, but we are currently responding to a massive epidemic in West Africa," said Jeroen Beijnberger, MSF medical coordinator in Congo.
"This is limiting our capacity to respond to the epidemic in Equateur Province."
The charity will nevertheless send doctors, nurses and logistics experts to the region and will work with the government to open an Ebola case management centre in Lokolia.
MSF said that the timing of the Congo outbreak was likely an "unfortunate coincidence", although it did not entirely discount a link with the outbreak currently raging in West Africa that has already killed at least 1,427 people.
Congo's Health Minister Felix Kabange Numbi said on Sunday that the outbreak in Equateur was a different strain of the virus from the deadly Zaire version detected in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria.
The World Health Organization, which also plans to send protective equipment to protect medical staff from the highly contagious virus, initially said that an outbreak of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis had killed at least 70 people.
A WHO spokesman said on Monday that several illnesses are thought to exist in the area including malaria, and shigellosis, an intestinal disease. (Reporting by Media Coulibaly and Emma Farge; Editing by Daniel Flynn)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.