World Health Organization says Ebola outbreak has spread to DR Congo city

Phillip Cunningham
May 18, 2018

The announcement came from the office of the Congo's health minister late Wednesday night after it was learned that there was a single case of Ebola reported in Mbandaka, a densely populated city just under 100 miles from the site of the last reported case.

The greatest cause for concern is a confirmed case of the deadly disease in Mbandaka, a city of about a million people and a transport hub on the Congo River in the north-west of the country.

There have been a total of 45 Ebola cases in DRC (10 suspected, 21 probable, 14 confirmed), DRC's Ministry of Health confirmed on Thursday. Fourteen cases have been confirmed with laboratory tests.

Amid fears of the outbreak spreading to neighboring countries, the United Nations migration agency said Friday it would support the deployment of Congolese health teams to 16 entry points along the nearby border with the Republic of Congo for infection control and prevention.

"The outbreak is potentially a public health emergency because many of the criteria have been met", said Dr. David Heymann, a former WHO director who has led numerous responses to Ebola. "WHO and our partners are taking decisive action to stop further spread of the virus".

The U.N. agency is also partnering with nongovernmental organizations, including Médecins Sans Frontières, to ensure that health facilities are ready to treat patients in isolation wards.

Two suspected cases of hemorrhagic fever were reported in the Wangata health zones that include Mbandaka, the capital of northwestern Equateur province.

Apart from World Health Organization and other United Nations agencies, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), as other humanitarian organisations, have teams on the ground, working to contain the outbreak.

Health workers will need to use translators for several local languages and explain the vaccine to leaders from different communities, Salama said.

The WHO revised its assessment of the risk of spread of the epidemic to "very high" at the national level and "high" for neighbouring countries.

The Ebola vaccine being provided - called rVSV-ZEBOV - has been shown to be safe in humans and highly effective against the Ebola virus, according to the WHO.

The outbreak in West Africa that started in 2014 was the worst ever recorded.

The UN agency has been working with the Ministry of Health and Doctors Without Borders to conduct the ring fence vaccinations across the affected areas - where contacts of those infected, followed by contacts of those contacts, would all be vaccinated. Twenty-three of those people have died.

This is the ninth outbreak, since the discovery of the Ebola virus in the country in 1976.

Ebola is lethal and highly contagious, which makes it hard to contain - especially in urban environments where people are mobile and come into more contact with others.

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