Ebola outbreak kills 19 in DR Congo

Sergio Cunningham
May 16, 2018

It's the ninth Ebola outbreak in the DRC since the virus was first discovered there in 1976, when the country was named Zaire. Plus, WHO said, the DRC is relatively well-prepared to handle Ebola.

"We already have three separate locations that are reporting cases", said the WHO's deputy director-general for emergency preparedness and response, Peter Salama.

With road travel between Bikoro and Mbandaka taking about 15 hours, establishing an "air bridge" is "the only way to mount a serious response", World Health Organization deputy director-general for emergency response Peter Salama said. In this case, the remoteness of Bikoro - some 240km by dilapidated road southwest of the provincial capital of Mbandaka, a city of about a million people - may both aid and complicate containment efforts.

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus visited Bikoro on Sunday and positively assessed the speed with which the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo declared the outbreak.

Scientists fear it may be a "public-health emergency" after an Ebola pandemic killed at least 11,000 when it decimated West Africa between 2014 and 2016.

Congo's nine neighbours have been put on high alert in case Ebola crosses a border, especially to Republic of Congo or Central African Republic. The outbreak happened in a very remote area which may have helped prevent the spread of the virus, but the immediate response was still crucial in limiting the impact to four fatalities and four survivors.

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Three health care workers are among those who have been infected. Mbandaka, with a population of about 1 million people, is also reachable from Bikoro by water. The latest response is "very different", Salama said, pointing to the money, material and personnel already mobilised since May 8.

World Health Organization and the medical group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF or Doctors Without Borders) were setting up a lab and a clinic, Salama said.

The UN agency is working with the country's Ministry of Health and worldwide nongovernmental organization M-decins Sans Fronti-res to conduct ring vaccinations across the affected region, where contacts of those infected, followed by contacts of those contacts, would all be vaccinated.

Laboratory results from a quarantine passenger at Uganda's Entebbe International Airport have showed negative for Ebola, an official said on Monday.

Researchers who tested it used the same strategy that was used to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s.

Ebola typically spreads through contact with bodily fluids, such as blood or sweat from infected persons or animals.

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