Watchdogs step up response in DR Congo as Ebola toll mounts

May 18, 2018

World agencies and neighbouring countries on Friday hiked their response to an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the toll from the notorious disease mounted.

A World Health Organization (WHO) emergency panel met to determine whether the outbreak was "a public health event of international concern"—a move that would step up global action.

The death toll rose by two to 25 out of 45 cases, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told reporters in Geneva on Friday. Fourteen of the cases have been confirmed in laboratory tests.

Alarm bells sounded on Thursday after the outbreak, previously reported in a remote rural area, notched up its first confirmed case in a city—the bustling transport hub Mbandaka.

That amounts to bad news for containing and rolling back the haemorrhagic fever virus, experts warned.

"The confirmed case in Mbandaka, a large urban centre located on major national and international river, road and domestic air routes increases the risk of spread within the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to neighbouring countries," the WHO said.

"WHO has therefore revised the assessment of to very high at the national level and high at the regional level," it said.

"At the global level the risk is currently low. As further information becomes available, the risk assessment will be reviewed."

Separately, the UN's migration agency said it was helping DRC's health ministry to send disease-tracking experts and medical staff to monitor travellers at 16 border points.

The operation was enabled by funding of $75,000 (almost 64,000 euros) from Japan and $100,000 of internal funds, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said.

A regional bloc, the East African Community—five of whose six members of the DRC—said it was on "high alert" over the outbreak and had put in place measures to screen travellers arriving from that country.

The fresh Ebola outbreak, publicly declared on May 8, was first reported in a rural part of Equateur Province in the vast country's northwest.

Many challenges

Ebola is both lethal and highly contagious, which makes it difficult to contain—especially in urban environments where people are mobile and come into more contact with others.

Lacking an arsenal of drugs to treat the virus, doctors isolate patients and trace people who have been in contact with them.

This is a major task even for medical services in rich countries, but the DRC is one of the world's poorest countries.

A country four times the size of France, the DRC has been chronically unstable and episodically racked by violence since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.

Hospitals, roads, electricity are all major problems, especially in remote areas.

In Mbandaka, whose population is estimated at up to 1.2 million, the mood among many people changed from insouciance to worry on Thursday.

Bars, restaurants and public offices set up basins of water and soap dispensers for people to wash their hands, while at the city's airport, workers were taking travellers' temperatures with pistol thermometers, an AFP reporter saw.

Worst outbreak

Ebola is notorious for its high fatality rate and extreme symptoms, which can include internal and external bleeding.

The virus has a reservoir in tropical African wildlife, being carried by species of bats, which do not themselves fall ill but can pass the pathogen on to humans who hunt for food.

Chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines can also become infected with Ebola, which makes them potential vectors for transmission if they are hunted and butchered.

Among humans, the commonest form of infection is through close contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of someone who is sick with Ebola or has recently died.

This presents a major risk in African cultures where relatives typically touch the body of the deceased at funerals.

The current outbreak involves the same strain of the virus that hit three West African countries in 2013-15 and sparked an international panic.

It went on to kill more than 11,300 people, in the deadliest ever Ebola epidemic.

The WHO was fiercely criticised over its handling of the epidemic and has pledged to improve its emergency response.

There is no licensed drug to treat or prevent Ebola, although an experimental vaccine arrived in the DRC on Wednesday and has been cleared for use by the Kinshasa government.

Explore further: Congo's Ebola risk 'very high' as confirmed virus cases rise

Related Stories

Congo's Ebola risk 'very high' as confirmed virus cases rise

May 18, 2018
Congo's latest Ebola outbreak now has 14 confirmed cases as health officials rush to contain the often deadly virus in a city of more than 1 million.

WHO says Ebola outbreak has spread to DR Congo city (Update)

May 17, 2018
The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo has spread to a city, the World Health Organization said Thursday, fuelling concern the deadly virus may prove tougher to contain.

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

May 17, 2018
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.

DR Congo reports four more Ebola cases

May 10, 2018
Four more cases of Ebola have been detected in northwest Democratic Republic of Congo, doctors said Thursday, two days after DRC reported a fresh outbreak of the disease.

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'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.

Recommended for you

Anticancer drug offers potential alternative to transplant for patients with liver failure

August 15, 2018
Patients suffering sudden liver failure could in the future benefit from a new treatment that could reduce the need for transplants, research published today shows.

Study shows how MERS coronavirus evolves to infect different species

August 14, 2018
In the past 15 years, two outbreaks of severe respiratory disease were caused by coronaviruses transmitted from animals to humans. In 2003, SARS-CoV (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus) spread from civets to infect ...

Inching closer to a soft spot in isoniazid-resistant tuberculosis

August 14, 2018
Antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis is a public health threat. TB and other bacteria become resistant to antibiotics by evolving genetic changes over time, which they can do quite quickly because bacterial lifecycles are short. ...

Why do women get more migraines?

August 14, 2018
Research published today reveals a potential mechanism for migraine causation which could explain why women get more migraines than men. The study, in Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences, suggests that sex hormones affect ...

How long is an Ebola survivor contagious? One case is causing scientists to rethink the answer.

August 14, 2018
Surviving Ebola isn't like getting over the flu.

Link between common 'harmless' virus and cardiovascular damage

August 13, 2018
Researchers from Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) have found an unexpectedly close link between a herpes virus and the occurrence of immune cells damaging cardiovascular tissue.

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.