Ebola outbreak threatens city of a million people in DR Congo

Henrietta Strickland
May 18, 2018

"If we see a town of that size infected with Ebola, then we are going to have a major urban outbreak", the WHO's head of emergency response, Peter Salama, told reporters last week. Helicopter and motorcycle are the only ways to reach Bikoro from Mbandaka, but an airstrip has been rapidly cleared for small planes to land with supplies.

As the outbreak continues to grow, fears that it may spread overseas linger as many remember the West African Epidemic in 2014.

"The confirmed case in Mbandaka, a large urban centre located on major national and worldwide river, road and domestic air routes increases the risk of spread within the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to neighbouring countries", the World Health Organization said.

The global response to the current Congo outbreak has been substantial, and is expected to grow in size and urgency after the announcement of a confirmed urban case.

This Ebola vaccine isn't officially licensed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yet, seemingly as a matter of the nation's slow and complicated approval process.

A ministry statement on Thursday said that the total number of Ebola cases is now 45, including 10 suspected, 21 probable and 14 confirmed. Ebola, endemic in Congo, is often transmitted to humans through eating contaminated meat, but can be caught through any close contact with an infected animal.

"Since the announcement of the alert in Mbandaka, our epidemiologists are working in the field with community relays to identify people who have been in contact with suspected cases", Ilunga said. Until now, the outbreak was confined to remote rural areas, where Ebola, which is spread by bodily fluids, travels more slowly.

"At least 44 people are believed to have been infected" during a new outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, says the BBC, and "23 deaths are now being investigated". This is the ninth Ebola outbreak in Congo since the 1970s, and the first since May of previous year, when five confirmed cases resulted in four deaths.

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The WHO is sending 7,540 doses of an experimental vaccine to try to stop the outbreak in its tracks, and 4,300 doses have already arrived in Kinshasa.

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

Ebola is lethal and highly contagious, which makes it hard to contain - especially in urban environments where people are mobile and come into more contact with others.

Nine Ebola outbreaks have occurred in DRC since the virus was first identified in 1976. The virus can be fatal in up to 90 percent of cases, depending on the strain.

An outbreak between 2014 and 2016 in west Africa was the worst ever, and killed more than 11,000.

He said the disease could have been taken there by people who attended the funeral of an Ebola victim in Bikoro, the south of Mbandaka, before travelling to the city.

Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and internal and external bleeding.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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