May 20, 2018

First urban case of Ebola in Congo a 'game-changer'

18 May 2018, 09:31 | Winifred Adams

Ebola outbreak threatens city of a million people in DR Congo

12 health workers don protective clothing as they prepare to attend to suspected Ebola patients at Bikoro Hospital in Bikoro Congo

Every time a new Ebola diagnosis is made vaccinations are delivered to all who may have come into contact with that person over a three week period.

Isolation zones have been set up in Mbandaka's main hospital as well as Bikoro hospital, with more Ebola treatment centers being set up in Mbandaka and Bikoro.

But the DRC's health ministry and the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday said a case had been confirmed in Equateur's capital Mbandaka, located about 150 kilometres (90 miles) from the Bikoro area where the outbreak originated.

The vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV, does not contain any live Ebola virus.

The deployment of this experimental vaccine will prove a major test for not only the efficacy of the vaccine but for global health strategies created to respond to major viral outbreaks such as this.

"We're certainly not trying to cause any panic in the national or worldwide community", Salama said. So far, Congolese medics have identified 44 suspected cases of Ebola, with three confirmed by lab tests.

A 2016 study found it to be 100% effective in trials in Guinea in coordination with the country's Ministry of Health after the 2014-15 outbreak.

"The remote location of the outbreak hampers both the information about the outbreak and interventions to control it", said Cyrus Shahpar, director of epidemic prevention at Resolve to Save Lives, a New York-based organisation.

Ebola, a hemorrhagic disease which is endemic to tropical regions of sub-Saharan Africa, was identified in the 1970s, but historically claimed a relatively small number of lives, despite its mortality rates reaching as high as 50 percent, as its spread between isolated villages and towns was limited.

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Cases emerged in a rural area with one now confirmed in the city of Mbandaka.

The fresh outbreak, publicly declared on May 8 with 23 deaths so far, had previously been reported in a rural part of Equateur Province in the vast country's northwest.

Salama, the WHO's deputy director-general for emergency response, said Mbandaka's location on the Congo river raised the prospect of Ebola spreading to Congo-Brazzaville and the Central African Republic, as well as downstream to Kinshasa, which has a population of 10 million. On Wednesday, the World Health Organization delivered 4,000 injections of an experimental vaccine with proven efficacy in recent trials, and more batches are expected soon.

In Mbandaka and Bikoro, 514 people who may have been in contact with infected people have been notified by national health authorities and are being monitored, according to MSF.

That challenge amplifies greatly in urban environments where people move around more and have more contact with others than in the countryside.

"This is the ninth Ebola outbreak in Congo in the last 40 years".

The current outbreak involves the same strain of the virus that hit three West African countries in 2013-15 and sparked an global panic.

Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and internal and external bleeding.

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