First urban case of Ebola in Congo a 'game-changer'

First urban case of Ebola in Congo a 'game-changer'

The WHO said it is also deploying 30 "experts" to Mbandaka to "conduct surveillance in the city and is working with the Ministry of Health and partners to engage with communities on prevention and treatment and the reporting of new cases".

GENEVA-Democratic Republic of Congo faces a "very high" public health risk from Ebola because the disease has been confirmed in a patient in a big city, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday, raising its assessment from "high" previously.

The Ebola cases were all located in the area around Bikoro, close to the Congo River, and around 150 km- about 95 miles - from the provincial capital Mbandaka, which is a busy port city. All in all, including the urban cases, 14 cases of Ebola have been confirmed according to the reports from the Congo Health Ministry.

Ebola is notoriously hard to contain, though recent outbreaks in Congo have been managed swiftly by the WHO and Congolese health officials, gaining the government there a reputation as one of the continent's most prepared.

The first human outbreaks of Ebola occurred in 1976, one in the north of what is now Congo and in the region that is now South Sudan. The last major outbreaks have affected people across West Africa between 2014 and 2016.

Ebola survivors often suffer from long-term consequences of the disease and may carry dormant viruses.

The discovery of a case in Mbandaka indicates the outbreak has entered a "new phase", the country's health minister, Dr. Oly Ilunga Kalenga, said Wednesday. It can spread rapidly through contact with small amounts of bodily fluid, and its early flu-like symptoms are not always obvious.

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.

Persistent rain and lack of roads has hampered the effort to contain the outbreak so far.

A total of 45 cases of hemorrhagic fever have now been reported, including 25 deaths, the health ministry said Thursday.

Part of the difficulty in deploying the vaccine is that it must be transported and stored at between minus-60 and minus-80 degrees Fahrenheit, which requires powerful refrigerators.

Isolation zones have been set up in Mbandaka's main hospital, and in Bikoro, WHO said. It involves vaccinating contacts of cases and suspected cases, contacts of those contacts and health care and other front-line workers.

More doses of vaccine are expected to be shipped out, a World Health Organization spokesman said earlier in the week.

Henry Gray from Doctors Without Borders in Mbandaka said there are more than 500 people that have likely come into contact with those infected. One nurse had died, and three others were among suspected cases since the outbreak began.

In the next few days, MSF plans delivery of several tonnes of supplies, including medical kits; protection and disinfection kits; logistic and hygiene kits; and palliative drugs to Mbandaka.

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