Reports say the Ebola outbreak in the DRC has spread from the countryside into a city, prompting fears that the disease will be increasingly difficult to control.

Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga confirmed a case in Mbandaka, a city of a million people about from the area where the first cases were confirmed earlier this month.

The city is a major transportation hub with routes to the capital Kinshasa.

Forty-two people have now been infected and 23 people are known to have died.

Ebola is a serious infectious illness that causes internal bleeding and often proves fatal. It can spread rapidly through contact with small amounts of bodily fluid and its early flu-like symptoms are not always obvious.

Senior World Health Organisation (WHO) official Peter Salama said the outbreak’s shift to a major city meant there was the potential for increased cases.

“This is a major development in the outbreak.We have urban Ebola, which is a very different animal from rural Ebola. The potential for an explosive increase in cases is now there,” he said.

Mr Salama, the WHO’s Deputy Director-General of Emergency Preparedness and Response, said Mbandaka’s location on the Congo river, widely used for transportation, raised the prospect of Ebola spreading to surrounding countries such as Congo-Brazzaville and the Central African Republic as well as downstream to Kinshasa, a city of 10 million people.

Confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola have been recorded in three health zones of Congo’s Equateur province, the WHO said.

Health workers had identified 430 people who may have had contact with the disease and were working to trace more than 4 000 contacts of Ebola patients, who had spread across northwest Congo.

-BBC