Daily Nation Newspaper - - HEALTH NEWS - - Kinshasa, DRC

THE Ebola out­break in DR Congo has spread from the coun­try­side into a city, prompt­ing fears that the dis­ease will be in­creas­ingly hard to con­trol.

Health Min­is­ter Oly Ilunga Kalenga con­firmed a case in Mban­daka, a city of a mil­lion peo­ple about 130km (80 miles) from the area where the first cases were con­firmed ear­lier this month.

The city is a ma­jor trans­porta­tion hub with routes to the cap­i­tal Kinshasa.

Forty-four peo­ple have been in­fected and 23 peo­ple known to have died.

Ebola is a se­ri­ous in­fec­tious ill­ness that causes in­ter­nal bleed­ing and of­ten proves fa­tal. It can spread rapidly through con­tact with small amounts of bod­ily fluid and its early flu­like symp­toms are not al­ways are ob­vi­ous.

Why is the spread to a city such a worry?

The 2014-16 West Africa out­break, which killed 11,300 peo­ple, was par­tic­u­larly deadly be­cause it spread to the cap­i­tal cities of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Se­nior World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO) of­fi­cial Peter Salama said the spread to Mban­daka meant there was the po­ten­tial for an “ex­plo­sive in­crease” in cases.

“This is a ma­jor de­vel­op­ment in the out­break,” he told the BBC. “We have ur­ban Ebola, which is a very dif­fer­ent an­i­mal from ru­ral Ebola. The po­ten­tial for an ex­plo­sive in­crease in cases is now there.” Mr Salama, the WHO’s deputy di­rec­tor-gen­eral for emer­gency pre­pared­ness and re­sponse, said Mban­daka’s lo­ca­tion on the Congo river, widely used for trans­porta­tion, raised the prospect of Ebola spread­ing to sur­round­ing coun­tries such as Congo-Braz­zav­ille and the Cen­tral African Repub­lic as well as down­stream to Kinshasa, a city of 10 mil­lion peo­ple.

“This puts a whole dif­fer­ent lens on this out­break and gives us in­creased ur­gency to move very quickly into Mban­daka to stop this new first sign of transmission,” he said.

What is be­ing done to con­tain the out­break?

So far only three of the 44 cases have been con­firmed as Ebola and in­volve peo­ple who are still alive, the WHO says. There are a fur­ther 20 prob­a­ble cases and 21 sus­pected cases, which to­gether ac­count for all the deaths.

The cases were recorded in three health zones of Congo’s Equa­teur prov­ince.

Iso­la­tion and rudi­men­tary Ebola case man­age­ment fa­cil­i­ties had been set up in Mban­daka to cope with cases, Mr Salama said.

The dis­ease may have been brought there, he said, by two or three peo­ple who had at­tended the funeral of an Ebola vic­tim in Bikoro to the south of Mban­daka be­fore trav­el­ling to the city.

On Wed­nes­day more than 4,000 doses of an ex­per­i­men­tal vac­cine sent by the WHO ar­rived in Kinshasa with an­other batch ex­pected soon.

These would be given as a pri­or­ity to peo­ple in Mban­daka who had been in con­tact with those sus­pected of car­ry­ing the Ebola virus be­fore peo­ple in any other af­fected area, in or­der to stop Ebola spread­ing in the ur­ban re­gion and be­yond, Mr Salama said. The vac­cine from phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal firm Merck is un­li­censed but was ef­fec­tive in lim­ited tri­als dur­ing the West Africa Ebola Out­break. It needs to be stored at a tem­per­a­ture of be­tween -60 and -80 C. Elec­tric­ity sup­plies in Congo are un­re­li­able.

Health work­ers had iden­ti­fied 430 peo­ple who may have had con­tact with the dis­ease and were work­ing to trace more than 4,000 con­tacts of Ebola pa­tients, who had spread across north­west DR Congo, the WHO said.

Many of these peo­ple were in ar­eas only reach­able by mo­tor­bike, Mr Salama said.

Ebola has claimed twen­tythree lives so far

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