An Ebola outbreak has been declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A cluster of cases have so far been identified, and although the virus has only been confirmed in one of these, medical professionals are preparing for the worst.
The outbreak is thought to have begun on April 22, in the Likati Health Zone, Bas Uele Province, a remote area in the far north of the country that borders with the Central African Republic. Nine people have been found displaying hemorrhagic symptoms indicative of the virus, and three of these have died. Of the tests so far carried out, only one has tested positive for the Zaire subtype Ebola virus (a different strain to the 2014 epidemic), though the results from other tests are currently being awaited.
Even though there has only been a single confirmed case, as the co-discoverer of Ebola, Peter Piot, has said: “All epidemics start with one case.” This is the first outbreak of the disease to have occurred since the epidemic that claimed the lives of more than 11,000 people in West Africa two years ago. The response by the Health Ministry and the WHO has been swift, mobilizing experts and biologists to work fast to contain the outbreak.
“The first teams of epidemiologists, biologists, and experts in the areas of social mobilization, risk communication, and community engagement, and also personnel specializing in water, hygiene, and sanitation, are scheduled to reach the affected area today or tomorrow,” explained Dr Yokouidé Allarangar, the WHO representative in the DRC. “The Likati health district is in a remote area, but contact tracing is essential to contain the outbreak in its focus; the DRC can rely on very experienced health workers for this purpose.”
The first case is thought to have been a 39-year-old man who was admitted to the health care facility on April 22, with blood in his diarrhea and urine, bleeding from the nose, and vomiting blood, and who subsequently died. Professionals worked quickly to identify who was caring for him on the way to the facility. That person has now developed symptoms themselves, as well as the moto-taxi driver who took them there, and who is now also dead.
The fear is that as the patient traveled to the health facility in the back of the moto-taxi, he may have spread the disease. In response to the West African outbreak, research into an effective vaccine was fast tracked, and concluded with the development of one that appeared to work in trials held in 2015 in Guinea. The maker of the vaccine, Merck, has stated that they are ready and prepared to ship them to the DCR as soon as the government requests it.