News ID: 219268
Published: 0200 GMT August 03, 2018

Congo Ebola outbreak poses high regional risk, says WHO

Congo Ebola outbreak poses high regional risk, says WHO
An ambulance from the Medicines Sans Frontiers (MSF) drives through a street in the town of Beni in North Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, on August 2, 2018.

An Ebola outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is likely spread over tens of kilometers and poses a high regional risk given its proximity to borders, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said on Thursday, according to Reuters.

Four people have tested positive for Ebola in and around Mangina, a town of about 60,000 people in North Kivu Province, 100 km (62 miles) from the Ugandan border, the Health Ministry said. Another 20 people died from unidentified hemorrhagic fevers in the area, mostly in the second half of July.

Just last week, a previous outbreak on the other side of the Central African country was declared over after killing 33 people.

“It would appear that the risk, as we can surmise for DRC, is high. For the region it’s high given the proximity to borders, particularly Uganda,” said Deputy Director General of Emergency Preparedness and Response Peter Salama.

“We are talking about tens of kilometers but I stress that this is very preliminary information at this stage.”

Ebola is believed to be transported long distances by bats and can find its way into bush meat sold at local markets and eaten. Once present in humans, it causes hemorrhagic fever, vomiting and diarrhea and is spread through direct contact with body fluids. Over 11,300 people died of an epidemic in West Africa from 2013 to 2016.

This is the vast, forested Central African country’s 10th outbreak since 1976, when the virus was discovered near Congo’s Ebola River in the north. That is more than twice as many epidemics as any other country.

The response to Congo’s previous outbreak was considered a success despite the 33 deaths, as the use of a vaccine made by Merck (MRK.N) helped contain the virus.

The kind of Ebola in the latest outbreak has been confirmed as the Zaire strain that the Merck vaccine protects against, Congo’s Health Ministry said late on Thursday. This should allow health officials to again use what has become the greatest weapon against Ebola epidemics to date.

Still, this outbreak poses new challenges. Eastern Congo is a tinderbox of conflicts over land and ethnicity stoked by decades of on-off war and this could hamper efforts to contain the virus.

About 1,000 civilians have been killed by armed groups and government soldiers around Beni since 2014, and the wider region of North Kivu holds over 1 million displaced people.

An international delegation including officials from the United Nations, the World Bank and the WHO is in Beni, 30 km from Mangina.

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