‘Ma­jor, ma­jor game-changer’: Ebola spreads to big Congo city

Imperial Valley Press - - SPORTS -

KINSHASA, Congo ( AP) — Congo’s Ebola out­break has spread to a cross­roads city of more than 1 mil­lion peo­ple in a trou­bling turn that marks the first time the vast, im­pov­er­ished coun­try has en­coun­tered the lethal virus in an ur­ban area.

“This is a ma­jor, ma­jor game-changer in the out­break,” Dr. Peter Salama, the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s deputy di­rec­tor- gen­eral of emer­gency pre­pared­ness and re­sponse, warned on Thurs­day.

A sin­gle case of Ebola was con­firmed in Mban­daka, a densely pop­u­lated pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal on the Congo River, Congo’s Health Min­is­ter Oly Ilunga said late Wed­nes­day. The city is about 93 miles from Bikoro, the ru­ral area where the out­break was an­nounced last week.

Med­i­cal teams rushed to track down any­one thought to have had con­tact with in­fected peo­ple, while WHO con­tin­ued ship­ping thou­sands of doses of an ex­per­i­men­tal vac­cine.

A to­tal of 44 cases of Ebola have been re­ported in Congo in this out­break: three con­firmed, 20 prob­a­ble and 21 sus­pected, ac­cord­ing to WHO. Twenty- three of those peo­ple have died.

Until now, the out­break was con­fined to re­mote ru­ral ar­eas, where Ebola, which is spread by bod­ily flu­ids, trav­els more slowly.

“We’re cer­tainly not try­ing to cause any panic in the na­tional or in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity,” Salama said. But “ur­ban Ebola can re­sult in an ex­po­nen­tial in­crease in cases in a way that ru­ral Ebola strug­gles to do.”

Mban­daka, a city of al­most 1.2 mil­lion, is in a busy travel cor­ri­dor in Congo’s north­west Equa­teur prov­ince and is up­stream from the cap­i­tal, Kinshasa, a city of about 10 mil­lion. It is an hour’s plane ride from Kinshasa or a four- to seven-day trip by river barge.

Salama also noted Mban­daka’s prox­im­ity to neigh­bor­ing coun­tries, in­clud­ing Cen­tral African Repub­lic and Repub­lic of Congo.

“The scenario has changed, and it has be­come most se­ri­ous and wor­ry­ing, since the dis­ease is now af­fect­ing an ur­ban area,” said Henry Gray, emer­gency co­or­di­na­tor in Mban­daka for Doc­tors With­out Borders.

The aid or­ga­ni­za­tion said 514 peo­ple be­lieved to have been in con­tact with in­fected peo­ple are be­ing mon­i­tored. WHO said it is de­ploy­ing about 30 more ex­perts to the city.

Those ex­posed will for the first time in Congo re- ceive Ebola vac­ci­na­tions, the health min­is­ter said. WHO has sent 4,000 doses to Congo and said it will dis­patch thou­sands more in the com­ing days as needed.

“This is a con­cern­ing de­vel­op­ment, but we now have bet­ter tools than ever be­fore to com­bat Ebola,” Te­dros Ad­hanom Ghe­breye­sus, WHO di­rec­tor- gen­eral, said of the new ur­ban case.

The vac­cine has been shown to be highly ef­fec­tive against Ebola. It was tested in Guinea dur­ing the out­break that killed more than 11,300 peo­ple in West Africa from 2014 to 2016.

WHO has said it will use the “ring vac­ci­na­tion” method. It in­volves vac­ci­nat­ing con­tacts of those feared in­fected, con­tacts of those con­tacts, and health care and other front-line work­ers.

This is the ninth Ebola out­break in Congo since 1976, when the dis­ease was first iden­ti­fied. The virus is ini­tially transmitted to peo­ple from wild an­i­mals, in­clud­ing bats and mon­keys.

There is no spe­cific treat­ment for Ebola. Symp­toms in­clude fever, vom­it­ing, di­ar­rhea, mus­cle pain and at times in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal bleed­ing. The virus can be fa­tal in up to 90 per­cent of cases, de­pend­ing on the strain.

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