DRC priest 'infected with Ebola' as death toll revised down

Mbandaka (DR Congo) (AFP) - A Catholic priest has been quarantined in the Democratic Republic of Congo after being infected with Ebola as health officials on Friday revised down the number of deaths to 22.

"We have quarantined a priest from the diocese of Mbandaka-Bikoro who tested positive" for the Ebola virus, a medical source told AFP on Thursday, on condition of anonymity. Religious authorities in the town could not be immediately contacted.

The Congolese Health Ministry on Friday published a new death toll for the latest outbreak following laboratory tests on bodies.

The number of overall deaths as of May 23 was confirmed as 22, not the previously reported 27, the communique said.

The number of those infected was also revised down from 58 to 52, including 31 confirmed, 13 probable and 8 suspected cases.

It was not possible to establish whether the priest was among them.

The authorities explained the downward revisions by saying some cases attributed to Ebola had proved negative after laborartory testing.

Kinshasa on May 8 announced cases of the notorious haemorrhagic fever in a remote northwestern district called Bikoro.

Last Thursday, the first case was reported in a city -- Mbandaka, a transport hub located on the Congo River.

DRC health officials launched a small, targeted vaccination campaign this week and UNICEF said it was helping schools and children to protect against the spread of the virus.

The charity's DRC representative Gianfranco Rotigliano told AFP, following a visit to schools in Bikoro: "I spoke with the schoolchildren, and they know the basic rules including washing their hands regularly, and not shaking hands."

Ebola spreads through contact with bodily fluids and is both highly infectious and extremely lethal.

In Mbandaka, several families have installed buckets of water and soap at the entrance of the house for hand-washing, an AFP correspondent said.

"I asked my children to be careful not to shake hands with people and stop playing with their friends in games that would cause contact between them," Claude, a father of several children, told AFP.