'Major, major game-changer': Ebola spreads to big Congo city

May 17, 2018 by Saleh Mwanamilongo And Carley Petesch
Congo's Ebola outbreak spreads to a city of over 1 million
In this photo taken Saturday, May 12, 2018, health workers don protective clothing as they prepare to attend to patients in the isolation ward to diagnose and treat suspected Ebola patients, at Bikoro Hospital in Bikoro, the rural area where the Ebola outbreak was announced last week, in Congo. Congo's latest Ebola outbreak has now spread to Mbandaka, a city of more than 1 million people, a worrying shift as the deadly virus risks traveling more easily in densely populated areas. (Mark Naftalin/UNICEF via AP)

Congo's Ebola outbreak has spread to a crossroads city of more than 1 million people in a troubling turn that marks the first time the vast, impoverished country has encountered the lethal virus in an urban area.

"This is a major, major game-changer in the outbreak," Dr. Peter Salama, the World Health Organization's deputy director-general of emergency preparedness and response, warned on Thursday.

A single case of Ebola was confirmed in Mbandaka, a densely populated provincial capital on the Congo River, Congo's Health Minister Oly Ilunga said late Wednesday. The city is about 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Bikoro, the rural area where the outbreak was announced last week.

Medical teams rushed to track down anyone thought to have had contact with infected people, while WHO continued shipping thousands of doses of an experimental vaccine.

A total of 44 cases of Ebola have been reported in Congo in this outbreak: three confirmed, 20 probable and 21 suspected, according to WHO. Twenty-three of those people have died.

Until now, the outbreak was confined to remote rural areas, where Ebola, which is spread by bodily fluids, travels more slowly.

"We're certainly not trying to cause any panic in the national or international community," Salama said. But "urban Ebola can result in an exponential increase in cases in a way that rural Ebola struggles to do."

Congo's Ebola outbreak spreads to a city of over 1 million
In this photo taken on Sunday, May 13, 2018, a health worker sprays disinfectant on officials outside an Ebola treatment center in Bikoro Democratic Republic of Congo. Congo's latest Ebola outbreak has spread to a city of more than 1 million people, a worrying shift as the deadly virus risks traveling more easily in densely populated areas. Two suspected cases of hemorrhagic fever were reported in the Wangata health zones that include Mbandaka, the capital of northwestern Equateur province. The city is about 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Bikoro, the rural area where the outbreak was announced last week, said Congo's Health Minister Oly Ilunga. (AP Photo/John Bompengo)

Mbandaka, a city of almost 1.2 million, is in a busy travel corridor in Congo's northwest Equateur province and is upstream from the capital, Kinshasa, a city of about 10 million. It is an hour's plane ride from Kinshasa or a four- to seven-day trip by river barge.

Salama also noted Mbandaka's proximity to neighboring countries, including Central African Republic and Republic of Congo.

"The scenario has changed, and it has become most serious and worrying, since the disease is now affecting an urban area," said Henry Gray, emergency coordinator in Mbandaka for Doctors Without Borders.

The aid organization said 514 people believed to have been in contact with infected people are being monitored. WHO said it is deploying about 30 more experts to the city.

Congo's Ebola outbreak spreads to a city of over 1 million
In this photo taken on Sunday, May 13, 2018, a health care worker wears virus protective gear at a treatment center in Bikoro Democratic Republic of Congo. Congo's latest Ebola outbreak has spread to a city of more than 1 million people, a worrying shift as the deadly virus risks traveling more easily in densely populated areas. Two suspected cases of hemorrhagic fever were reported in the Wangata health zones that include Mbandaka, the capital of northwestern Equateur province. The city is about 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Bikoro, the rural area where the outbreak was announced last week, said Congo's Health Minister Oly Ilunga. (AP Photo/John Bompengo)

Those exposed will for the first time in Congo receive Ebola vaccinations, the health minister said. WHO has sent 4,000 doses to Congo and said it will dispatch thousands more in the coming days as needed.

"This is a concerning development, but we now have better tools than ever before to combat Ebola," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said of the new urban case.

The vaccine has been shown to be highly effective against Ebola. It was tested in Guinea during the outbreak that killed more than 11,300 people in West Africa from 2014 to 2016.

WHO has said it will use the "ring vaccination" method. It involves vaccinating contacts of those feared infected, contacts of those contacts, and health care and other front-line workers.

Congo's Ebola outbreak spreads to a city of over 1 million
In this photo taken Saturday, May 12, 2018, health workers are sprayed with chlorine after leaving the isolation ward to diagnose and treat suspected Ebola patients, at Bikoro Hospital in Bikoro, the rural area where the Ebola outbreak was announced last week, in Congo. Congo's latest Ebola outbreak has now spread to Mbandaka, a city of more than 1 million people, a worrying shift as the deadly virus risks traveling more easily in densely populated areas. (Mark Naftalin/UNICEF via AP)

This is the ninth Ebola outbreak in Congo since 1976, when the disease was first identified. The virus is initially transmitted to people from wild animals, including bats and monkeys.

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.

Congo's Ebola outbreak spreads to a city of over 1 million
In this undated colorized transmission electron micrograph file image made available by the CDC shows an Ebola virus virion. Congo's Ebola outbreak has spread to a city, the capital of the northwestern Equateur province, a worrying shift as the risk of infection is more easily passed on in densely populated urban areas. (Frederick Murphy/CDC via AP, File)

Explore further: Congo's Ebola outbreak reports first confirmed urban case

Related Stories

Congo's Ebola outbreak reports first confirmed urban case

May 17, 2018
Congo's latest Ebola outbreak has spread to a city of more than 1 million people, a worrying shift as the deadly virus risks traveling more easily in densely populated areas.

Congo's health ministry says doses of Ebola vaccine arrive

May 16, 2018
Thousands of doses of the experimental Ebola vaccine have arrived in Congo's capital amid the latest outbreak of the deadly disease, the health ministry said Wednesday.

Ebola reaches an urban area in Congo. What now?

May 17, 2018
The global health community gulped Thursday with the announcement that a case of Ebola had been confirmed in a city of more than 1 million in Congo, bringing the latest outbreak of the often deadly hemorrhagic fever out of ...

Congo approves use of experimental Ebola vaccine, WHO says

May 14, 2018
Congo has agreed to allow the World Health Organization to use an experimental Ebola vaccine to combat an outbreak announced last week, the WHO director-general said Monday.

Congo announces 1st death amid Ebola outbreak in northwest

May 10, 2018
Congo's minister of health on Thursday announced the first death since a new Ebola outbreak was declared in the country, as well as nine other cases of people sickened by a hemorrhagic fever that is suspected as Ebola.

WHO reports new Ebola case in DR Congo, vaccine this week

May 14, 2018
The head of the World Health Organization said Sunday there has been another reported case of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo and that an experimental vaccine to fight the disease is expected to become available ...

Recommended for you

Marker may help target treatments for Crohn's patients

October 16, 2018
Crohn's disease (CD), a chronic inflammatory condition of the intestinal tract, has emerged as a global disease, with rates steadily increasing over the last 50 years. Experts have long suspected that CD likely represents ...

Polio: Environmental monitoring will be key as world reaches global eradication

October 15, 2018
Robust environmental monitoring should be used as the world approaches global eradication of polio, say University of Michigan researchers who recently studied the epidemiology of the 2013 silent polio outbreak in Rahat, ...

Study traces hospital-acquired bloodstream infections to patients' own bodies

October 15, 2018
The most common source of a bloodstream infection acquired during a hospital stay is not a nurse's or doctor's dirty hands, or another patient's sneeze or visitor's cough, but the patient's own gut, Stanford University School ...

Researchers make essential imaging tests safer for people at risk of acute kidney injury

October 15, 2018
Every year, millions of people undergo medical tests and procedures, such as coronary angiography, which use intravascular contrast dyes. "For the majority of patients, these are safe and necessary procedures. However, about ...

Do not give decongestants to young children for common cold symptoms, say experts

October 11, 2018
Decongestants should not be given to children under 6—and given with caution in children under 12—as there is no evidence that they alleviate symptoms such as a blocked or runny nose, and their safety is unclear, say ...

New techniques can detect Lyme disease weeks before current tests

October 11, 2018
Researchers have developed techniques to detect Lyme disease bacteria weeks sooner than current tests, allowing patients to start treatment earlier.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.