Ebola outbreak threatens city of a million people in DR Congo


Ebola is notoriously hard to contain, though recent outbreaks in Congo have been managed swiftly by the World Health Organization and Congolese health officials, gaining the government there a reputation as one of the continent's most prepared. The case in Mbandaka is only the third confirmed case of the current outbreak; 20 others are probable, and 21 are suspected, bringing the total of potential cases to 44.

The WHO is to convene an Emergency Committee meeting on Friday to consider response to the outbreak, the United Nations organization's spokesman, Christian Lindmeier, said. Whilst the strategy is being put in place, the "pillars" of an Ebola intervention are taking effect in order to stem the spread of the disease: early treatment and isolation of people who are sick; tracing and following up contacts; informing people about the disease, how to prevent it and where to seek care; supporting existing healthcare; and temporarily changing cultural behaviour around funerals.

While there is no specific treatment for the deadly disease, which has a 90 percent fatality rate, World Health Organization has shipped thousands of doses of an experimental vaccine to the region.

Two suspected cases of hemorrhagic fever were reported in the Wangata health zones that include Mbandaka, the capital of northwestern Equateur province.

"This is the ninth Ebola outbreak in Congo in the last 40 years".

The UN health agency is deploying around 30 experts to conduct surveillance in Mbandaka and is working with the DRC's Ministry of Health advising communities on prevention, treatment and reporting of new cases. Ebola is fatal in about 50 per cent of cases.

Results on the cases are expected within 24 hours, Ilunga said.

"Another major issue here is that this centre of Mbandaka is on the banks of Congo River, and that river connects to the internal hinterland of DRC but also to surrounding countries such as Congo-Brazzaville and Central African Republic, so this outbreak now has a real risk of national and regional amplification".

"This is a concerning development, but we now have better tools than ever before to combat Ebola", said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO. It can spread rapidly through contact with small amounts of bodily fluid, and its early flu-like symptoms are not always obvious.

AFP factfile on how the Ebola virus attacks.

An infected person is estimated to have between 100-150 "contacts" with other people per day, a figure that may be higher in densely populated areas, Jasarevic added.

The experimental vaccine has been shown to be highly effective against Ebola.

Humans contract the virus from infected animals, typically fruit bats, chimpanzees, gorillas and monkeys. Since then, an experimental vaccine has been developed, and 4,000 doses have arrived in the Congo, with thousands more to follow.

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.