At least 17 people have died in an area of the Democratic Republic of Congo where health officials have declared an Ebola outbreak.

A health ministry statement said the central African country was "facing another epidemic" less than a year after its last Ebola outbreak killed eight people.

Medical teams dispatched to the zone took five samples from suspected active cases and two tested positive for the Zaire strain of the Ebola virus, the ministry said in a statement.

In the past five weeks, there have been 21 suspected cases of viral haemorrhagic fever, including 17 deaths.

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