WHO declares new outbreak of Ebola in Congo
Friday, May 12, 2017
Between December 2013 and January 2015, the largest outbreak of Ebola hit West Africa and killed more than 11,000 people. Thankfully, in May of 2015, Liberia was declared Ebola-free. Sierra Leone and Guinea followed later that year, and the epidemic was finally over by the beginning of 2016.
Now, it seems the virus has returned with today's announcement from the World Health Organization that a new Ebola outbreak has been identified in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This news has emerged after three recent deaths, one of which has tested positive for the virus, and from confirmation of nine individuals who had hemorrhagic fever around April 22 in the Bas-Uele province.
"It is in a very remote zone, very forested, so we are a little lucky. We always take this very seriously," said Eric Kabambi, WHO's Congo spokesperson.
Ebola is a virus with symptoms that include sudden fever, intense weakness, muscle pain and a sore throat. It can also cause vomiting, diarrhea and in some cases external bleeding. Without preventative measures, the virus can spread quickly between people — causing a two-day to three-week incubation period — and is fatal in up to 90 percent of cases.
The disease was first identified in 1976 and is contracted by close contact with infected animals, such as chimpanzees, fruit bats and forest antelope. It then spreads through human contact by blood or bodily fluids, or through contact with contaminated environments.
Though there has been an experimental Ebola vaccine with 300,000 doses available, the global vaccine alliance GAVI has said they can only be used if the outbreak is on the verge of becoming a pandemic. That said, Congo's health minister has urged people not to panic.
With about 70 percent of the population having little to no access to healthcare, this new strain of Ebola cases will test one of the world's least-equipped healthcare systems. The Democratic Republic of the Congo last suffered an Ebola outbreak in 2014, resulting in 49 deaths.
"It will be great when all of these countries are officially declared free of Ebola," Dr. Craig Spencer said in 2015. "But in many ways the hard work really starts at that point. A transition to a post-Ebola healthcare system is going to be an incredibly difficult and fragile task. Healthcare must include prevention and treatment for a wide range of illnesses, and nutritional support to help the body heal."
According to WHO representative Dr. Allarangar Yokouide, the first teams of specialists are due to arrive to the affected areas today or Saturday.
"The area in Likati is difficult to access, but the work of tracing contacts is very crucial to stopping the epidemic in its tracks," he said to The Associated Press.
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