As of this morning, the 2018 Ebola outbreak totaled 46 cases of hemorrhagic fever, of which 21 have been confirmed as Ebola, while 21 are probable cases of the virus and four are only suspected of being related to the epidemic.
Originally confined to the Bikoro zone, a remote rural region where the Ebola epidemic was first detected on May 8, the virus has already spread to the urban area, making its way into the city of Mbandaka, Al Jazeera reported yesterday.
"Three new cases were reported (in Mbandaka) and tested positive for the Ebola virus," Congolese health minister Oly Ilunga said in a statement.
The spread of the Ebola virus into a crowded urban area such as Mbandaka, which is home to more than 1 million people and lies an hour's flight from Congo's capital Kinshasa, is particularly alarming given that this fatal disease can now infect a larger portion of the population.
In order to contain the current Ebola outbreak, which is the worst eruption of the virus since the catastrophic epidemic that rampaged through western Africa in 2014 killing 11,300 people over the course of two years, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been authorized by DRC officials to use an experimental vaccine, Reuters reported at the beginning of the week.
The first 4,000 doses of the experimental Ebola vaccine arrived in Kinshasa on May 16, Reuters noted in an update on the situation, and the first vaccinations are set to begin today, Al Jazeera informs in the video below."Our current estimate is we need to vaccinate around 8,000 people, so we are sending 8,000 doses in two lots," Peter Salama, WHO's deputy director-general for emergency preparedness and response, said in a statement.
Developed by the German pharmaceutical company Merck, the Ebola vaccine is still in its testing stages, but it proved effective during the 2014 outbreak.
The vaccine is indented primarily for people that are suspected of coming into contact with the infected individuals, as well as for health workers.
"In our experience, for each confirmed case of Ebola there are about 100-150 contacts and contacts of contacts eligible for vaccination," said WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic.
"So, it means this first shipment would be probably enough for around 25-26 rings — each around one confirmed case," Jasarevic pointed out.
Congolese health officials are currently trying to locate more than 500 people suspected of having come into contact with the disease.
One of the challenges of using the Merck experimental vaccine is that the product needs to be stored in a cold environment, at temperatures between -60 and -80 degrees Celsius.
According to Salama, this "is extremely difficult" to achieve considering the country's "very poor infrastructures."
"The other issue is, we are now tracing more than 4,000 contacts of patients and they have spread out all over the region of northwest Congo, so they have to be followed up and the only way to reach them is motorcycles," said Salama.
The present Ebola outbreak is the ninth one to hit the DRC in the last four decades since the virus was first identified. Deadly in 90 percent of cases, Ebola is transmitted from wild animals, such as bats and monkeys, and is spread from person to person through contact with bodily fluids.