Health Care

Ebola deaths CONFIRMED as virus continues to spread

Ebola deaths CONFIRMED as virus continues to spread

An Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo has entered a "new phase" after it spread to a large city, the country's health minister, Dr. Oly Ilunga Kalenga, said Wednesday.

Earlier on Thursday, WHO Deputy Director Peter Salama said in a tweet that the latest confirmed case marked "a game changer" in the outbreak and would make beating back the virus "much tougher".

Confirmed cases of Ebola had previously been limited to a remote area more than 160km south of Mbandaka, in the rainforest of Congo's Equateur province.

Apart from WHO and other United Nations agencies, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), as other humanitarian organizations, have teams on the ground, working to contain the outbreak. "So far, all of them have occurred in remote and isolated areas, as was the case a year ago in Likati, when the epidemic didn't spread." explains Henry Gray, MSF Emergency Coordinator in Mbandaka.

The WHO is also deploying 30 experts to Mbandaka to "conduct surveillance in the city and is working with the Ministry of Health and partners to engage with communities on prevention and treatment and the reporting of new cases".

At present, 514 people who may have been in contact with infected people have been notified by the national health authorities, and they are now under monitoring.

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"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. That brings to three the number of confirmed Ebola cases.

Only three cases, one of which was fatal, have been confirmed by laboratory tests since an outbreak of the virus was identified by the health ministry on May 8, however. It can spread rapidly through contact with small amounts of bodily fluid, and its early flu-like symptoms are not always obvious.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 23 deaths in DRC in recent weeks were linked to Ebola, which has no proven cure. "We have urban Ebola, which is a very different animal from rural Ebola. The potential for an explosive increase in cases is now there".

Isolation zones have been set up in Mbandaka's main hospital as well as Bikoro hospital, with more Ebola treatment centers being set up in Mbandaka and Bikoro.

The plan is to immunize the more than 500 contacts of infected people in an attempt to stop the virus from spreading.

The WHO is sending 7,540 experimental vaccines to DRC, 4,300 of which have already arrived in the capital, Kinshasa, as part of a coordinated response to the outbreak. Previous reports of the disease had all been in remote areas where Ebola might spread more slowly. Humans can also be exposed to the virus, for example, by butchering infected animals. Tens of millions of people live along the river, and the capitals of Congo, Central African Republic, and the Republic of Congo lie along it and its tributaries.