Medicine

Emergency meeting called as Ebola spreads to Congolese city

Emergency meeting called as Ebola spreads to Congolese city

Congo's latest Ebola outbreak has spread to a city of more than 1 million people, a worrying shift as the deadly virus risks traveling more easily in densely populated areas.

The current outbreak involves the same strain of the virus that hit three West African countries in 2013-15 and sparked an global panic.

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.

The Ebola outbreak in the DRC has entered a "new phase" after it spread to a large city, Health Minister Oly Ilunga said on Wednesday.

"All must be done to isolate the Ebola cases, especially since there has been a case in Mbandaka city", said EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner, Christos Stylianides. The city is about 93 miles from Bikoro, the rural area where the outbreak was announced last week.

Authorities will intensify efforts to monitor and trace the Congo population at all air, sea and road access routes, Mr Ilunga said. The city has direct transport connections to Congo's capital, Kinshasa, where some 10 million people live in crowded conditions.

"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".

The WHO statement said there had been 21 suspected, 20 probable and 3 confirmed cases of Ebola between April 4 and May 15, a total of 44 cases, including 15 deaths.

Ebola is lethal and highly contagious, which makes it hard to contain - especially in urban environments where people are mobile and come into more contact with others.

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Those exposed to the suspected Ebola cases will for the first time in Congo receive Ebola vaccinations, the health minister said.

"This is a concerning development, but we now have better tools than ever before to combat Ebola", said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO.

World Health Organization also sent 300 body bags to DRC to ensure those who had died from the virus were safely buried. The vaccine, produced by the pharmaceutical giant Merck, is not yet licensed, although the World Health Organization has cleared it for "compassionate use".

The DRC is at its ninth Ebola outbreak since 1976.

The WHO revised its assessment of the risk of spread of the epidemic to "very high" at the national level and "high" for neighbouring countries.

Eleven people were treated for Ebola in the United States in 2014, two of whom died, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Without preventive measures, the virus can spread quickly and is fatal in up to 90 percent of cases.

First symptoms generally include the sudden onset of fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat, and this is followed by vomiting and diarrhoea.


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