Five more cases of Ebola detected by health officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo bringing total to more than 50 amid fears fresh outbreak shares similarities to the 2014 pandemic
- Some 25 people are feared to have died already after catching the lethal virus
- Officials have already branded the fresh outbreak a ‘public health emergency’
- Three new cases have been recorded in Bikoro in the north west of the country
- Another two have been found in Wangata – another town in the same region
Five more suspected cases of Ebola have been detected by health officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Some 25 people are feared to have died already after contracting the lethal virus in the African nation, according to the World Health Organization.
Three new cases have been recorded in Bikoro in the north west of the country, where the current outbreak began at the start of April.
Another two have been documented in Wangata – another town in the same region, according to the DRC’s health ministry.
The virus, considered one of the most lethal pathogens in existence, decimated West Africa and killed more than 11,000 people in the 2014 pandemic.
Officials in the DRC have already branded the fresh outbreak, which has seen 50 suspected cases, a ‘public health emergency’.
International help has poured in as aid workers battle round-the-clock to contain the outbreak, first declared on May 8.
Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres opened a new treatment centre in Mbandaka, a port city on the river Congo with around 1.2 million inhabitants.
At least three people were taken in there on Friday for treatment, according to an AFP reporter.
The current Ebola outbreak began in the poorly-connected region of Ikoko-Impenge and Bikoro. It has since travelled 80 miles (130km) north to Mbandaka. There is fears it will spread to Kinshasa –364 miles (586km) south on the river, where 12 million people live
A mass vaccination campaign has also begun and all neighbouring countries have been placed on high alert.
The new suspected cases come after an infectious disease expert claimed the Ebola outbreak in the DRC has the ‘potential for rapid expansion’.
Dr Derek Gatherer, a virologist from Lancaster University, warned last week that the fresh outbreak is ‘reminiscent’ of the 2014 Ebola pandemic.
Where did the new outbreak begin?
The current Ebola outbreak began in the poorly-connected region of Ikoko-Impenge and Bikoro. It has since travelled 80 miles (130km) north to Mbandaka.
Dr Gatherer said there is a ‘major concern’ it will spread to Kinshasa –364 miles (586km) south on the river, where 12 million people live.
The city, which is the capital of the DRC, has an international airport with regular flights to European cities Zurich, Frankfurt and Brussels.
In an editorial for a scientific journal, Dr Gatherer wrote: ‘The current outbreak has the potential for rapid expansion in numbers.
He added: ‘Mbandaka is a port on the River Congo, the main arterial transport link from DRC’s capital Kinshasa to inland cities.
‘With poor to non-existent provision of running water, sewage and electricity, the similarities with the urban situation… during the west African outbreak are obvious.’
‘The risk of transmission to Kinshasa – central Africa’s main megacity – either by river or by air from Mbandaka’s regional airport, is a major concern.’
Writing in the Journal of General Virology, he also warned the ‘question of how to prevent future Ebola outbreaks remains depressingly open’.
Dr Gatherer described the DRC basin as ‘Ebola’s heartland’. The virus – endemic in the country – is named after the Ebola river.
Some 25 people are feared to have died already after contracting the lethal virus in the African nation (aid workers pictured in DRC)
The current outbreak
The current outbreak of Ebola is caused by the Zaire strain.
There has been 50 probable cases since the beginning of the outbreak in April but only 37 have been confirmed in lab tests. The five new suspected cases add to that total. A further update on the number of cases so far is expected to be released this week by the WHO.
Twelve deaths from Ebola have been confirmed so far, including two health care workers. Another two have been confirmed to have the virus.
In its last situation report, released Friday, the WHO said 724 contacts have been recorded and are ‘being followed up actively’.
‘Our country is facing another epidemic of the Ebola virus, which constitutes an international public health emergency,’ the Congo Health Ministry said earlier this month.
A smaller outbreak last year
DRC escaped the brutal Ebola pandemic, which was finally declared over in January 2016 – but it was struck by a smaller outbreak last year.
Four DRC residents died from the virus in 2017. The outbreak lasted just 42 days and international aid teams were praised for their prompt responses.
The new outbreak is the DRC’s ninth since the discovery of Ebola in the country in 1976.
Health experts credit an awareness of the disease among the population and local medical staff’s experience treating for past successes containing its spread.
DRC’s vast, remote geography also gives it an advantage, as outbreaks are often localised and relatively easy to isolate.
Neighbouring countries have already been alerted about the new outbreak of Ebola, which can cause severe bleeding.
DRC borders Angola, Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Rwanda, Burundi and the Republic of Congo
At least 25 people are feared to have been killed by the deadly virus in the African nation, according to the World Health Organization (UNICEF workers pictured in DRC)
Measures taken by neighbouring countries
Kenya – which doesn’t border the country – earlier this month issued warnings over the possible spread of Ebola.
Thermal guns to detect anyone with a fever have been put in place along its border with Uganda and at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
Concerned health officials in Nigeria, which also doesn’t border the DRC, have put similar measures in place to keep its population safe.
Ebola is often fatal if untreated – around 50 per cent of patients die. It is transmitted to people from wild animals and can be spread from human to human.
The outbreak comes after the World Bank stated last year that Earth isn’t ready for an ‘inevitable’ pandemic, after stimulating four possible scenarios.
The research was done in an attempt to assess why the global response to the Ebola pandemic was so sloppy and to fill those gaps before another disaster strikes.
Criticised aid efforts
The 2014 international response to the Ebola pandemic drew criticism for moving too slowly and prompted an apology from the WHO.
But international aid teams have moved much quicker in response this time – with vaccination campaigns already underway in several regions.
Hundreds of locals and frontline health workers in Bikoro, Iboko and Mbandaka have already been given the experimental vaccine, known as rVSV-ZEBOV.
Currently, there are no proven Ebola vaccines – but the rVSV-ZEBOV has been shown to be effective in trials in Guinea during the pandemic.
But will a mass vaccination programme help?
However, a study by scientists at Kent University published earlier this month argued mass vaccination programmes won’t stop Ebola outbreaks.
Writing in the Frontiers in Immunology, they revealed that controlling an outbreak of the virus depends entirely on surveillance and the isolation of cases.
Five other experimental drugs will be used as part of clinical trials to examine their effects in protecting against Ebola, the DRC’s Health Ministry has said.
WHAT IS EBOLA AND HOW DEADLY IS IT?
Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever, killed at least 11,000 across the world after it decimated West Africa and spread rapidly over the space of two years.
That pandemic was officially declared over back in January 2016, when Liberia was announced to be Ebola-free by the WHO.
The country, rocked by back-to-back civil wars that ended in 2003, was hit the hardest by the fever, with 40 per cent of the deaths having occurred there.
Sierra Leone reported the highest number of Ebola cases, with nearly of all those infected having been residents of the nation.
WHERE DID IT BEGIN?
An analysis, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found the outbreak began in Guinea – which neighbours Liberia and Sierra Leone.
A team of international researchers were able to trace the pandemic back to a two-year-old boy in Meliandou – about 400 miles (650km) from the capital, Conakry.
Emile Ouamouno, known more commonly as Patient Zero, may have contracted the deadly virus by playing with bats in a hollow tree, a study suggested.
HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE STRUCK DOWN?
Figures show nearly 29,000 people were infected from Ebola – meaning the virus killed around 40 per cent of those it struck.
Cases and deaths were also reported in Nigeria, Mali and the US – but on a much smaller scale, with 15 fatalities between the three nations.
Health officials in Guinea reported a mysterious bug in the south-eastern regions of the country before the WHO confirmed it was Ebola.
Ebola was first identified by scientists in 1976, but the most recent outbreak dwarfed all other ones recorded in history, figures show.
HOW DID HUMANS CONTRACT THE VIRUS?
Scientists believe Ebola is most often passed to humans by fruit bats, but antelope, porcupines, gorillas and chimpanzees could also be to blame.
It can be transmitted between humans through blood, secretions and other bodily fluids of people – and surfaces – that have been infected.
IS THERE A TREATMENT?
The WHO warns that there is ‘no proven treatment’ for Ebola – but dozens of drugs and jabs are being tested in case of a similarly devastating outbreak.
Hope exists though, after an experimental vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV, protected nearly 6,000 people. The results were published in The Lancet journal.
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