Ebola spreads to Congo city of 1M
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 gamechanger 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.”