June 1 (UPI) -- As the Democratic Republic of the Congo neared declaring an Ebola outbreak in its eastern provinces over, health officials on Monday announced a new cluster has emerged on the other side of the African nation.
It is unclear how the outbreak began in the western port city of Mbandaka, but at least five people have died from the disease, officials said.
The World Health Organization first reported four deaths to the virus followed by UNICEF stating in a release that five people, including a 15-year-old girl, had died between May 18 and Sunday when health officials confirmed they were Ebola-related fatalities.
The announcement came as Congolese health officials battle the coronavirus pandemic, which has nearly reached 3,200 confirmed cases, including 72 deaths in the country, and the world's largest measles outbreak at more than 369,500 infections and nearly 6,800 deaths since 2019 when the outbreak began.
"This outbreak is a reminder that COVID-19 is not the only health threat people face," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement. "Although much of our attention is on the pandemic, WHO is continuing to monitor and respond to the many other health emergencies."
It is the 11th outbreak of Ebola in the country since it first emerged in 1976, and occurred as its 10th outbreak in the northeastern provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri was in its final phase.
Declared on Aug. 1, 2018, the outbreak has since grown to more than 3,460 total cases, resulting in 2,280 deaths. The WHO neared declaring the roughly two-year outbreak over when a new case was confirmed on April 10. Then on May 14, the Ministry of Health began a 42-day countdown to the declaration of the outbreak's end.
However, WHO said new outbreaks are expected in the African nation given the existence of the virus living in an animal reservoir in several parts of the country.
"The new Ebola outbreak in Mbandaka, DRC, represents a challenge, but it's one we are ready to tackle," Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said in a tweet. "...With each experience, we respond faster & more effectively."
WHO said it has health officials on the ground in Mbandaka as part of its capacity built since the start of the 2018 outbreak and a further 25 people are expected to arrive Tuesday. UNICEF said it will deploy 36 staff by Tuesday to work with relevant partners and government agencies to assist those infected and to raise awareness of communities to good hygiene and behavioral practices to prevent the virus' spread.
The country's ninth Ebola outbreak occurred between May 8 and July 24, 2018, in Mbandaka, resulting in 54 cases, among whom 33 people died.