Ebola Outbreak Reemerges in Remote Congo

The World Health Organization has declared a new localized outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo. While the announcement is troubling, it doesn’t necessarily mean another mass outbreak is imminent.

In April reports of undiagnosed illness in the Congo began to surface. The string of disease, first reported in the Bas Uele Province, appeared to carry hemorrhagic symptoms indicating a possible Ebola outbreak.

On May 11, the DRC’s Ministry of Health reported that of five laboratory-tested samples, one come back positive for signs of the Ebola virus. Further samples will undergo testing, and at least one other positive sample has been confirmed.

Reuters reports:

Peter Salama, the WHO’s executive director for health emergencies, said the agency’s risk assessment on the outbreak was that it is high at a national level, medium at African regional level and low at global level.

However, he added: “We cannot underestimate the logistic and practical challenges associated with this response in a very remote and insecure part of the country.

“As of now, we do not know the full extent of the outbreak, and as we deploy teams over the next few weeks, we will begin to understand… exactly what we’re dealing with,” Salama told reporters on a telephone briefing.

The World Health Organization is now working with the DRC government and local health officials to contain and manage this outbreak.

One of the key priorities for health agencies will be to track the 400 known individuals that have come in contact with infected persons and to screen them for the virus. In so doing, WHO and local agencies will also look for the primary route of transmission to determine where this outbreak may have started.

So far, the only known fatalities have come from the direct line of infection first known to health officials — namely, the man who initially contracted the illness in April and two people with whom he had contact.

While this doesn’t necessarily mean that the man was the primary carrier, it does at least suggest a time frame for the infection, providing researchers with a clear starting point for their investigation.

However, the region’s geography presents several challenges for infection control. Located in a remote area, much of Bas Uele’s infrastructure is poor. Basic telecommunications are not available throughout the province, while road access and electricity remains limited. While this Ebola outbreak is unlikely to present a global risk, controlling it at the local level could be a difficult task, given these obstacles.

Will experts deploy the Ebola vaccine?

The 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa resulted in 28,652 suspected cases and at least 11,325 deaths, making it the worst in recorded history. During that time, researchers worked frantically to develop a viable Ebola vaccine.

In December of 2016, the World Health Organization announced that, based on clinical trials of the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine in Guinea, their leading vaccine candidate has the potential to be highly effective. In fact, projections showed that it might even be 100 percent effective under the right conditions.

However, the vaccine isn’t yet available. The WHO is working hard to bring it to the market as quickly as possible — likely some time in 2018.

But the question remains: Can the vaccine be deployed?

Several barriers exist, including a commitment by all relevant government agencies and logistical challenges. Without easy road access and electricity, getting the vaccine to those who need it will be difficult.

That said, these barriers are not insurmountable. The WHO has reportedly indicated that it is prepared to use the outbreak as a field trial for the vaccine’s effectiveness, with possible deployment within a matter of weeks if permission is granted.

Encouragingly, the Congo has an excellent track record of containing and eliminating Ebola outbreaks. Indeed, as the BBC points out, when Ebola emerged in the Congo two years ago, it took health officials only four months to deal with the virus.

With a viable vaccine on hand and a rapid response from health officials, there is every reason to believe that this Ebola outbreak can once again be contained.

Photo Credit: DFID/Flickr

66 comments

Jennifer H
Jennifer H21 days ago

Ebola has been around for decades and still nothing to treat it. Where have the priorities been?

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heather g
heather gabout a month ago

African countries are high on the list when it comes to exploiting their mineral riches, but last on the list when it comes to urgent medical help.

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william Miller
william Millerabout a month ago

thanks

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Lisa M
Lisa Mabout a month ago

Noted.

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Lisa M
Lisa Mabout a month ago

Noted.

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FOTEINI c
FOTEINI chormpouabout a month ago

SIGN PETITION ABOUT EBOLA: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/429/423/693/

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FOTEINI c
FOTEINI chormpouabout a month ago

not again.....we should have given more donations on Ebola research like cancer etc

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Jamie Clemons
Jamie Clemonsabout a month ago

The zombie apocalypse is only a few mutations away.

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Clare O
Clare O'Bearaabout a month ago

Tell them to stop eating apes. That is known to be the reservoir for the disease.

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Bill E
Bill Eagleabout a month ago

All the more reason for us to support and contribute to W.H.O. and UN relief.

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