Dras­tic shift as ebola found in Congo city

Fraser Coast Chronicle - - WORLD -

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 Or­gan­i­sa­tion’s deputy di­rec­tor-gen­eral of emer­gency pre­pared­ness and re­sponse, warned yes­ter­day.

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 150km from Bikoro, the ru­ral area where the out­break was an­nounced last week.

Congo’s Min­istry of Health has 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.

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.

Med­i­cal teams have been rush­ing to track down any­one thought to have had con­tact with in­fected peo­ple, while the 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.

Dr Salama said ur­ban ebola could 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.

Dr Salama also noted Mban­daka’s prox­im­ity to neigh­bour­ing 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,” Henry Gray, emer­gency co-ordinator in Mban­daka for Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders, said.

The aid or­gan­i­sa­tion said 514 peo­ple be­lieved to have been in con­tact with in­fected peo­ple are be­ing mon­i­tored.

This is the ninth ebola out­break in Congo since 1976, when the dis­ease was first iden­ti­fied.

The virus can be fa­tal in up to 90 per cent of cases.

Pic­ture: UNICEF

Health work­ers don pro­tec­tive cloth­ing to at­tend to sus­pected ebola pa­tients in Bikoro, Congo, where an out­break was an­nounced last week and (in­set, above) sus­pected ebola suf­fer­ers wait out­side a clinic in the ru­ral re­gion.

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