The World Health Organization (WHO) announced last week that the number of people infected with the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has risen to 28, with seven confirmed cases in urban settings. Officials initially believed that the outbreak was confined to Bikoro, a rural setting near the DRC’s northwestern Équateur Province. However, the outbreak has since entered a new phase of emergency upon the discovery of a case in Mbandaka, the bustling capital of Équateur Province and home to over one million people. The health ministry also confirmed that at least 58 people in the northwest area of the DRC have displayed symptoms of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).
This is the ninth time that the EVD has struck the DRC over the last 50 years. The virus was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River, and it is described as endemic to this nation. Ebola is a zoonotic virus, meaning that it originates in animals and then spreads to humans. Human-to-human transmission of the virus can occur from any contact of the nose, mouth, or broken skin to the blood or bodily fluids of an infected individual. EVD presents through symptoms such as internal and external bleeding, vomiting, diarrhea, and a fever that cripples the body’s ability to regulate blood pressure and leads to multiple-system organ failure. The prognosis for an infected individual is bleak, with an average case fatality rate of 50 percent.
The WHO has announced a regional response in reaction to this outbreak last week. The organization plans to work with the nine countries surrounding the DRC in an effort to prevent the further spread of EVD across borders. WHO Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said that focus would be placed on Angola, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia and Uganda due to their close proximity to the site of the original outbreak. The Ebola virus has a 21-day incubation period, meaning that an individual infected with EVD has the ability to spread the virus over a period of three weeks after their initial infection. Jessica Ilunga, the health ministry’s spokeswoman, stated, “As soon as you have a few confirmed cases, the persons who have been in contact with them are at risk. We knew there was a risk of more cases coming in.”
The best way to break the chain of transmission is to implement widespread vaccinations to all of the people who could potentially come in contact with an infected individual. As a result, ring vaccinations have been taking place in Mbandaka since May 21, 2018. More than 420 individuals in rings around four confirmed cases of Ebola have been vaccinated over the past week, and health workers have also been encouraged to get vaccinated.
Although the DRC’s Ebola outbreak has escalated into a public health emergency, officials say that there may still be time to get the situation under control and minimize the number of fatalities. According to WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “The problem is really serious [but] together, with a sense of urgency and partnership, we can manage this outbreak.”
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