“A total of 12 people from various centres on the outskirts [of Goma] are undergoing testing after the response team triggered the alert protocol,” the Congolese government said in a statement. Six other people suspected of infection were discharged after testing negative on Friday, the presidency added. Goma, a city of nearly 2 million people bordering Rwanda, is the capital of North Kivu Province, the region worst hit by the year-long epidemic that has killed more than 1,800 people and infected thousands more.
Congolese authorities were left scrambling to contain the outbreak last week after a gold miner with a large family contaminated several people, including his wife and daughter, before dying of the haemorrhagic fever.
“The gold miner will have contaminated several people, but for the moment it is only his wife and one of his 10 children who are sick,” the government’s Ebola response coordinator Jean-Jacques Muyembe told a news conference in Goma.
Mr Muyembe added that the man’s sister, who had travelled to DR Congo’s South Kivu, had been brought back to Goma for testing over the weekend.
The miner died last week after he sought treatment too late and was already bleeding. His wife and one-year-old baby are in a stable condition.
“The individual concerned spent time with his family being very symptomatic within the community. So we did expect further cases and we are seeing further cases,” World Health Organisation (WHO) spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters in Geneva.
But the new cases in Goma, a transit hub located more than 359km (220 miles) south of where the outbreak was first detected, have raised fears of an acceleration in infections.
Mr Muyembe added that an estimated half of cases of Ebola were going unidentified.
He warned: “If we continue on that basis, this epidemic could last two or three years.”
Other countries in the region fear the virus will jump across borders if left unchecked.
Mozambique on Saturday set up Ebola checkpoints along its border with Malawi as a precaution, while Rwanda on Thursday temporarily sealed its frontier with DR Congo.
Two people have died of Ebola in Uganda, which also shares a border with the poverty-struck nation.
The spread of the disease to Goma in mid-July prompted the WHO to declare the outbreak an international health emergency.
It was earlier reluctant to do so, partly out of fear neighbouring countries might impose disruptive trade or travel restrictions.
Ebola virus causes haemorrhagic fever, vomiting and severe diarrhoea, often followed by kidney and liver failure and internal and external bleeding.
The disease, which is often fatal, is spread by close contact with infected bodily fluids.
While there is no medical cure for Ebola, new tools including a trial vaccine, experimental treatments and futuristic cube-shaped treatment units have helped limit its spread.
However, local mistrust of health workers and attacks on Ebola clinics by armed militias have hobbled the response and allowed the disease to spread.
Health teams face two major obstacles: resistance from communities who believe Ebola is a conspiracy made up by charities and the government, and from armed groups seeking to stoke instability for their own gain.
This is the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak on record, after a 2013-2016 West African epidemic infected 28,000 people and killed 11,300, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.