400 contacts being traced in Congo's Ebola outbreak

Faith Castro
May 19, 2017

The World Health Organization says a second case of Ebola has been confirmed by laboratory testing amid an outbreak in a remote corner of northern Congo. WHO has also issued an Ebola virus Risk Assessment, with the level being high at a national level, medium at a regional level and now low at a global level, said Peter Salama, WHO's executive director for health emergencies during a telephone briefing.

The WHO, which faced crushing criticism for taking too long to sound a global alarm and to scale up its response to the epidemic that ended previous year, emphasised the quick response since DR Congo declared the latest outbreak on May 12. Additionally, it has been subject to insecurity and displacement, particularly due to the ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic.

About a week ago, in addition to the nine suspected cases, 125 patients who had come into close contact with the disease were being monitored.

The WHO meanwhile remains "optimistic" that Kinshasa can rapidly bring the outbreak under control, the agency's regional chief for Africa said during the conference call. Thirty-two cases appeared between 2008-2009, causing an estimated 15 deaths in Kasai.

The outbreak was reported in a densely forested part of Bas-Uele province, near the border with the Central African Republic.

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The man was referred to the Reference General Hospital in the Likati health zone, but died en route. World Health Organization is also investigating an outbreak of a disease that shares similar symptoms to Ebola, including vomiting and nausea, in an area several hundred kilometers from Bas-Uele Province. He said telecommunications networks would have to be established and airstrips repaired so that aid workers can provide the necessary medical care. A new experimental vaccine has been shown to be highly effective against the virus, though quantities are now limited. Health and care workers are also being provided with protective equipment. There would be no mass public vaccination. The country's drug regulatory agency would also have to authorize emergency use of the vaccine, which is not yet licensed. Other experimental antiviral drugs may also be considered.

Last week DR Congo declared an outbreak of the highly contagious disease, the eighth to date in a sprawling country five times the size of France.

"DRC has a strong experience in dealing with these things successfully and a proven track record of dealing with Ebola outbreak", said Salama.

But he said huge efforts were underway to overcome the challenges.

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