The number of confirmed Ebola cases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) city Mbandaka has now risen to three. The DRC’s health minister made the announcement as authorities rushed to contain the latest outbreak that has now reached an urban settlement of more than one million people.
The latest information indicates that there are 17 confirmed Ebola cases and one death in the current outbreak. Additionally, there are 21 probable cases and five suspected cases.
While the World Health Organisation (WHO) did not take the step of declaring the latest outbreak a global health emergency, it did warn that the risk of the disease spreading within the DRC was “very high”.
Nine neighbouring countries have also been warned about the latest outbreak, with the WHO saying there is a high risk of the disease spreading into those countries. As yet, the WHO has not implemented any trade or travel restrictions.
The latest outbreak will see additional testing of a new, experimental vaccine that proved to be effective in the West Africa outbreak several years ago. Vaccinations are expected to begin early this week with the arrival of more than 4,000 doses. More doses are on the way.
One of the major challenges facing health workers will be to keep the vaccines cold as the country is lacking in refrigeration infrastructure.
Previous outbreaks of the disease within the DRC have been contained, mainly because the outbreaks took place in remote areas. On two occasions the virus made it to the DRC’s capital city of Kinshasa, with a population of more than 10-million people but was rapidly stopped on both occasions.
It is believed that more than 500 people have come into contact with infected patients and health authorities are trying to track these people down. Mbandaka is located along the Congo River and is only a one-hour flight from Kinshasa. "Even if it's not happening here yet I have to reduce contact with people. May God protect us in any case," Grace Ekofo, a 23-year-old student in Kinshasa, told the Associated Press.
A teacher in Mbandaka, 53-year-old Jean Mopono, said they were trying to implement preventative measures by teaching students not to greet each other by shaking hands or kissing. "We pray that this epidemic does not take place here," Mopono said.
There is "strong reason to believe this situation can be brought under control," said Dr Robert Steffen, who chaired the WHO expert meeting on Friday. But without a vigorous response, "the situation is likely to deteriorate significantly." Despite the experimental vaccine, there is no specific treatment for the virus, which can be fatal up to 90% of the time depending on the strain of the virus contracted.