Congo sees another Ebola outbreak

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After a patient died of Ebola, the health authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have declared an outbreak of the deadly disease – the sixth since the last outbreak in 2018.

So far, just one case has been confirmed, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said in a statement.

The patient, a 31-year-old man from Mbandaka, a city in the north-western Equateur Province, began experiencing symptoms on April 5 and after more than a week of care at home, sought treatment at a local health facility. On April 21, the patient was admitted to an Ebola treatment centre for intensive care but died later that day.

Having recognised the symptoms, health workers immediately submitted samples to test for Ebola virus disease. Investigations to determine the source of the outbreak are ongoing, the global health agency said.

“Time is not on our side,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, in the statement.

“The disease has had a two-week head start and we are now playing catch-up. The positive news is that health authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have more experience than anyone else in the world at controlling Ebola outbreaks quickly,” Moeti added.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is experiencing its fourteenth Ebola outbreaks since 1976. The current outbreak is the sixth since 2018 alone – the most frequent occurrence in the country’s Ebola history. Previous outbreaks in Equateur Province were in 2020 and 2018, with 130 and 54 recorded cases respectively.

All efforts to stem the current outbreak – including testing and tracing anyone who came in contact with the patient.

The country, which already has stockpiles of the rVSV-ZEBOV Ebola vaccine, will also soon start administering the shots through ring vaccination strategy — where contacts and contacts of contacts are vaccinated to curb the spread of the virus and protect lives.

“Many people in Mbandaka are already vaccinated against Ebola, which should help reduce the impact of the disease,” said Dr Moeti. “All those who were vaccinated during the 2020 outbreak will be revaccinated.”

Ebola is a severe, often fatal illness affecting humans and other primates. Case fatality rates have varied from 25-90 per cent in past outbreaks. There is, however, effective treatment available and if patients receive treatment early, as well as supportive care, their chances of survival improves significantly.

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