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

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - WORLD - By Saleh Mwanamilongo and Car­ley Petesch Saleh Mwanamilongo and Car­ley Petesch are As­so­ci­ated Press writ­ers.

KINSHASA, Congo — 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 gamechanger in the out­break,” Dr. Peter Salama, the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s deputy di­rec­tor­gen­eral 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.

Late Thurs­day, Congo’s Min­istry of Health an­nounced 11 new con­firmed Ebola cases and two deaths tied to cases in the coun­try’s north­west, in­clud­ing one in a sub­urb of Mban­daka.

A to­tal of 45 cases of Ebola have now been re­ported in Congo in this out­break: 14 con­firmed, 21 prob­a­ble and 10 sus­pected, the min­istry said, af­ter re­sults from lab tests re­turned Thurs­day.

There has been one new death in Bikoro, where the first death took place. That new death had epi­demi­o­log­i­cal ties to an­other case. The other death was a sus­pected case in Wan­gata, a sub­urb of Mban­daka on the Congo River, the min­istry said. No de­tails were given on the death’s links to the newly con­firmed case.

Only one of the 25 dead has been con­firmed as Ebola, it said, adding that no new health pro­fes­sion­als have been con­tam­i­nated.

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

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. It is up­stream from the cap­i­tal, Kinshasa, a city of about 10 mil­lion.

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