18 May 2018

Congo-Kinshasa: Ebola - WHO Raises Congo Risk to 'Very High'

Photo: OMS / S. Hawkey
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An Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo has a high risk of spreading, the World Health Organization warns. The number of confirmed cases risen from three to 14, according to the DRC's Health Ministry.

The Democratic Republic of Congo's current Ebola outbreak has a high risk of spreading, the World Health Organization announced in a statement released on Friday.

The WHO identified several suspected or probable infections between April 4 and May 15, for a total of 45 cases, 14 of which have been confirmed, and 25 deaths.

Efforts to combat

As of May 15, health officials had identified 527 contacts between people believed to be infected with Ebola, one of the world's deadliest viruses, and relatives, acquaintances or strangers.

Earlier this week, more than 4,000 doses of an experimental Ebola vaccine arrived in Congo as part of the UN's efforts to stem the outbreak.

Mbandaka, an urban area where the population tops 700,000 people, had three suspected cases in addition to a confirmed case.

'Risk of spread'

"The confirmed case in Mbandaka, a large urban center 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 neighboring countries," the WHO reported.

"We're certainly not trying to cause any panic in the national or international community," Peter Salama, the WHO's deputy director-general for emergency preparedness and response, told reporters Thursday. "What we're saying though is that urban Ebola is very different phenomenon to rural Ebola because we know that people in urban areas can have far more contacts so that means that urban Ebola can result in an exponential increase in cases in a way that rural Ebola struggles to do."

"This is a concerning development, but we now have better tools than ever before to combat Ebola," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO's director-general. "WHO and our partners are taking decisive action to stop further spread of the virus."

Bad memories: The current outbreak involves the same strain of the virus that hit three West African countries from 2013 to 2016, killing more than 11,300 people; the fierce criticism of the WHO's handling of the epidemic led officials to pledge to improve their emergency response efforts.

The disease: A highly infectious virus, Ebola can cause fever and bleeding and has a death rate that runs as high as 90 percent.

The treatment: Isolating patients quickly and administering fluids to assist with dehydration and keep fevers down can both help prevent the spread of Ebola and improve chances of survival

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