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