Fears grow as 44 Ebola cases con­firmed and out­break reaches city

The Herald - - INTERNATIONAL -

THE Ebola out­break in DR Congo has spread to a city, prompt­ing fears of a wor­ry­ing shift in the new out­break in the north-west of the coun­try.

Congo’s health min­is­ter said Ebola has now spread to the cap­i­tal of the Equa­teur prov­ince.

Oly Ilunga said two sus­pected cases of hem­or­rhagic fever were re­ported in the Wan­gata health zones, which in­cludes Mban­daka city, about 93 miles from Bikoro, the ru­ral area where the out­break be­gan.

He said one sam­ple proved pos­i­tive for the deadly Ebola virus, bring­ing the num­ber of con­firmed Ebola cases in three health zones to three.

Mr Ilunga said the coun­try is now en­ter­ing an ur­ban phase of the out­break, with higher spread po­ten­tial. He said epi­demi­ol­o­gists are work­ing to iden­tify ad­di­tional con­tacts to the 500 al­ready made.

A to­tal of 44 cases have now been re­ported, in­clud­ing 23 deaths, the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion re­ported. Among those are three con­firmed, 20 prob­a­ble and 21 sus­pected cases.

“We are en­ter­ing a new phase of the Ebola out­break that is now af­fect­ing three health zones, in­clud­ing an ur­ban health zone,” Mr Ilunga said.

He added that he is wor­ried be­cause Mban­daka, a city of nearly 1.2 mil­lion peo­ple, is densely pop­u­lated and at the cross­roads of Equa­teur prov­ince.

Ebola is spread by con­tact with the bod­ily flu­ids of peo­ple ex­hibit­ing symp­toms.

He said the lists of those ex­posed to sus­pected Ebola cases would re­ceive, for the first time in DR Congo, a new com­po­nent of re­sponse to an Ebola out­break: vac­ci­na­tions. Health ex­perts are al­ready trac­ing 500 con­tacts, he said.

The World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion sent 5,400 doses of the ex­per­i­men­tal Ebola vac­cine to DR Congo on Wed­nes­day, ac­cord­ing to the health min­is­ter. The WHO has said it will send thou­sands more in the com­ing days, as needed.

Be­fore this an­nounce­ment, all con­firmed Ebola cases were re­ported in the Bikoro health zone, where health fa­cil­i­ties are lim­ited and af­fected ar­eas are dif­fi­cult to reach.

“This is a con­cern­ing de­vel­op­ment, but we now have bet­ter tools than ever be­fore to com­bat Ebola,” said WHO di­rec­tor-gen­eral Te­dros Ad­hanom Ghe­breye­sus. “WHO and our part­ners are tak­ing de­ci­sive ac­tion to stop fur­ther spread of the virus.”

The WHO said it has de­ployed 30 ex­perts for sur­veil­lance in Mban­daka. The WHO is also work­ing with Medecins Sans Fron­tieres and other or­gan­i­sa­tions to stem the out­break and treat Ebola pa­tients in iso­la­tion wards.

The vac­cine, from Us-based phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal firm Merck, is un­li­censed but has been shown to be highly ef­fec­tive against Ebola. It was tested in Guinea in 2015 dur­ing the out­break that killed more than

11,300 peo­ple in West Africa from 2014 to 2016.

This is the ninth Ebola out­break in DR Congo since 1976.

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