Ebola Outbreak Spreads to Urban Area in Congo

May 17, 2018

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At least two cases of Ebola have spread to an urban area in the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of the latest outbreak of the hemorrhagic fever, the nation’s health minister announced Wednesday night.

The two new cases were detected in the country’s Wangata health zones, which encompasses Mbandaka city, the capital of Equateur province, Health Minister Oly Ilung said. These are the first cases found outside the outbreak’s origin in the rural region of Bikoro — 93 miles away.

Now that the outbreak, which began May 8, is in an urban phase, the virus will have a higher spread potential, Ilung said. Epidemiologists from both the World Health Organization and Congo’s health ministry are currently working to track the victims’ potential contacts and have already identified 500 people who may have come in contact with those infected.

Identifying anyone who might have come in contact with a person infected with the hemorrhagic fever is important to stop the spread of Ebola. The WHO said it would be using a “ring vaccination” tactic to try to halt the outbreak. This strategy means that anyone who might have had contact with a confirmed victim of Ebola — and even contacts of those contacts — volunteer for a preemptive dose of the vaccine. Healthcare workers will also be vaccinated preemptively.

The country has received 4,000 dosages of the experimental vaccine from the WHO, and another shipment of 4,000 more is on the way. The WHO said additional dosages would be available as needed.

Of the outbreak’s 42 suspected Ebola cases, Congo has so far tallied 23 deaths.

It is important to note that Congo, unlike some of its fellow countries in West Africa, does not have a robust aviation network. That factor that will hopefully help contain the spread of the disease, unlike the deadly outbreak in 2014 that swept across Africa’s western region via air travel and even into the US after people who had contracted Ebola were able to board flights around the world. That outbreak claimed more than 11,300 lives.

Congo’s current outbreak of Ebola is unfolding just as US President Donald Trump declared he was cutting $252 million of the US’ Ebola emergency response funding. Those funds were left over from a nearly $1 billion grant from Congress to help West Africa stop the spread of the virus, which became a national security issue for the US after cases of the disease were confirmed in several states. The remaining $252 million of funding was earmarked for monitoring future epidemics and responses in the region.

H/T: CBS News

Featured image by JOHN WESSELS/AFP/Getty Images.

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