Ebola spreads to ma­jor city; vac­cines a con­cern

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - A* - By Car­ley Petesch and Cara Anna

DAKAR, Sene­gal— The sec­ond-largest Ebola out­break in his­tory has spread to a ma­jor city in eastern Congo, as health ex­perts worry whether the stock of an ex­per­i­men­tal vac­cine will stand up to the de­mands of an epi­demic with no end in sight.

Butembo, with more than 1 mil­lion res­i­dents, is now re­port­ing cases of the deadly hem­or­rhagic fever. That com­pli­cates Ebola con­tain­ment work al­ready chal­lenged by rebel at­tacks else­where that have made track­ing the virus al­most im­pos­si­ble in some iso­lated vil­lages.

“We are very con­cerned by the epi­demi­o­log­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in the Butembo area,” said John John­son, project co­or­di­na­tor with Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders in the city. New cases are in­creas­ing quickly in the eastern suburbs and out­ly­ing, iso­lated dis­tricts, the med­i­cal char­ity said.

The out­break de­clared on Aug. 1 is now sec­ond only to the dev­as­tat­ing West Africa out­break that killed more than 11,300 peo­ple a few years ago. There are cur­rently 471 Ebola cases, of which 423 are con­firmed, in­clud­ing 225 con­firmed deaths, Congo’s health min­istry said late Thurs­day.

With­out the teams that have vac­ci­nated more than 41,000 peo­ple so far, this out­break could have al­ready seen more than 10,000 Ebola cases, the health min­istry said .

This is by far the largest de­ploy­ment of the promis­ing but still ex­per­i­men­tal Ebola vac­cine, which is owned by Merck. The com­pany keeps a stock­pile of 300,000 doses, and pre­par­ing them takes months.

“We are ex­tremely con­cerned about the size of the vac­cine stock­pile,” WHO’s emer­gen­cies di­rec­tor, Dr. Peter Salama, told the STAT me­dia out­let in an in­ter­view this week, say­ing 300,000 doses is not suf­fi­cient as ur­ban Ebola out­breaks be­come more com­mon. Car­ley Petesch and Cara Anna are As­so­ci­ated Press writ­ers.

John Wes­sels / AFP / Getty Im­ages

Health work­ers treat an un­con­firmed Ebola pa­tient in Butembo, a city with more than 1 mil­lion peo­ple.

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