News ID: 215446
Published: 0636 GMT May 21, 2018

Ebola death toll climbs to 27 as vaccination campaign starts in Congo

Ebola death toll climbs to 27 as vaccination campaign starts in Congo
AFP / Junior D. KANNAH
A woman washes her hands in Mbandaka, DRC, as authorities prepare to launch a programme to immunise first responders with an experimental Ebola vaccine

A nurse has died from Ebola in Bikoro, the rural northwestern town where the outbreak began, as Congo Monday began a vaccination campaign in three health zones affected by the deadly outbreak, the country's health minister said.

The nurse's death brought the death toll to 27. There are now 49 hemorrhagic fever cases: 22 confirmed as Ebola, 21 probable and 6 suspected, according to Health Minister Oly Ilunga, AP reported.

"We have established surveillance mechanisms and are following all cases and contacts," he said. "The response is well organized because we have also put in surveillance measures at the entry and exit points of Mbandaka."

In a hopeful sign, two patients who were confirmed as positive for Ebola have recovered, and are returning to their homes though they will be monitored, Ilunga said.

They have left the hospital "with a medical certificate attesting that they've recovered and can no longer transmit the disease because they have developed antibodies against Ebola," he said.

Ebola, however, does in many cases remain longer in semen, and therefore can be transmitted through sexual contact for some months after recovery.

Congo's health delegation, including the health minister and representatives of the World Health Organization and the United Nations arrived in Mbandaka, the northwestern city of 1.2 million where Ebola has spread, to launch the vaccination campaign Monday.

Twenty-four vaccinators, including Congolese and Guineans who administered the vaccine in their country during the 2014-2016 outbreak, were in Mbandaka to start injecting the 540 doses that have arrived, the health minister said.

It will take five days to vaccinate about 100 contacts of registered patients, he said.

The vaccine is still in the test stages, but it was effective toward the end of the Ebola epidemic that killed more than 11,300 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia from 2014 to 2016. A major challenge will be keeping the vaccines cold in this vast, impoverished, tropical country where infrastructure is poor.

Congo President Joseph Kabila and his Cabinet agreed Saturday to increase funds for the Ebola emergency to more than $4 million. The Cabinet also endorsed the decision to provide free health care in the affected areas and to provide special care to all Ebola victims and their relatives.

The spread of Ebola from a rural area to Mbandaka has raised alarm as Ebola can spread more quickly in urban centers. The fever can cause severe internal bleeding that is often fatal.

This is Congo's ninth Ebola outbreak since 1976, when the disease was first identified. The virus is initially transmitted to people from wild animals, including bats and monkeys. It is spread via contact with bodily fluids of those infected.

There is no specific treatment for Ebola. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and at times internal and external bleeding. The virus can be fatal in up to 90 percent of cases, depending on the strain.

   
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