WHO announces outbreak of Ebola in DRC

WHO Declares Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak In DR Congo After Three Deaths

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared an outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after three people died and another six came down with a hemorrhagic fever believed to be due to Ebola virus infection. All the cases were recorded in the remote northeast equatorial forest region of Bas-Uele, near the country’s border with the Central African Republic (CAR), according to the BBC.

The declaration of a new outbreak of Ebola virus disease in the DRC came after the country’s health ministry officially notified the WHO of a “lab-confirmed case” of the disease from the northeast part of the country. The WHO later said that the health authorities in the DRC confirmed that a total of three people have died and six others have come down with an illness believed to be due to Ebola virus infection, The Guardian reported.

Of the three fatal cases only one was confirmed through tests conducted at the national laboratory in Kinshasa as being due to infection with the Ebola virus, according to Allarangar Yokouide, the WHO representative in the DRC.

The lab-confirmed case involved a man who fell ill late last month and presented at a local hospital with a high fever. He was referred to the nearest hospital with laboratory test facilities, but died on the way, infecting the motorcycle driver and another passenger who traveled with him.

The motorcycle driver and the passenger have since also died.

Ebola virus disease has a high mortality rate, up to 90 percent in some cases. The Ebola virus is an RNA virus similar to influenza and HIV. The infection spreads mainly through contact with body fluids, such as blood, feces, urine, and saliva.

The DRC’s health minister, Oly Ilunga Kalenga, announced the latest outbreak in an address. Although he warned that the outbreak was a “national health emergency with international significance,” he urged citizens not to panic.

“As this is the eighth epidemic [of Ebola] that we are facing as a nation, we should not be rattled,” the health minister said. “The ministry of health is taking all measures to respond quickly and efficiently to this new outbreak.”

A spokesperson for the WHO also said that the latest outbreak was being taken seriously.

The outbreak reportedly started around April 22 in the Bas-Uele province, about 1,300 km (800 miles) northeast of the capital city of Kinshasa. The region is close to the country’s border with the neighboring Central African Republic (CAR).

“It is in a very remote zone, very forested, so we are a little lucky. But we always take this very seriously,” Eric Kabambi, spokesperson for the WHO in DRC, said, according to Reuters.

Describing the outbreak as “a public health crisis of international importance,” the WHO said that teams of experts from UNICEF, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and Medecins Sans Frontieres will arrive in the country this weekend. Regional health workers have also been mobilized to the area, Kabambi added.

“The DRC is a big country and the zone affected is quite difficult to access, but it is right on the border with Central African Republic,” Kabambi explained. “People are constantly coming and going across the border to visit friends and family, so we are taking very urgent preventative measures to contain the risk.”

“We must engage with local communities so they understand that this is a virus unlike any other, it is very contagious and deadly,” Kabambi continued. “We are engaging with village heads and community leaders so we can all work together and stop the virus from spreading.”

Forty-nine people died during the last outbreak of infection with the Ebola in the DRC in 2014. BBC noted that the DRC has faced several outbreaks of Ebola virus disease in the past and successfully contained the spread of the infection. Thus, the health authorities in the country have considerable experience managing outbreaks.

But this time around, the health authorities will also be able to take advantage of a new effective vaccine for the virus if it is needed.

“There are 300,000 doses of Ebola vaccine available if needed to stop this outbreak becoming a pandemic,” said Dr. Seth Berkley, whose WHO team developed the vaccine in collaboration with Merck.

“The vaccine has shown high efficacy in clinical trials and could play a vital role in protecting the most vulnerable,” he added.

The Ebola virus disease was first identified in the DRC in 1976, and since then, a total of nine outbreaks have occurred in the country. The last outbreak occurred in 2014 during the epidemic that ravaged some countries in West Africa, killing thousands of people.

More than 11,000 people died in the West African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia in 2014 and 2015, after an Ebola epidemic swept through the region. The outbreak was the worst case of Ebola virus disease epidemic in history, according to medical authorities.

The WHO was widely criticized for failing to respond quickly to the epidemic.

The outbreak attracted global attention, with countries putting in place travel restrictions to control the global spread of the deadly infection. Several aid agencies also volunteered to send personnel to West Africa to help fight the spread of the virus.

[Featured Image by Abbas Dulleh/AP Images]