The Ebola outbreak could escalate after the first case of a patient dying in the city of Butembo in the Democratic Republic of Congo, experts have warned.
The first Ebola death in the eastern city of Butembo in the first urban outbreak of the virus was confirmed by government officials.
The current outbreak has already killed 87 people and it is close to becoming the eighth largest Ebola outbreak in history.
World Health Organisation’s (WHO) emergency response chief, Peter Salama, said the urban outbreak is worrying.
Mr Salama said the patient travelled from the current outbreak hotspot in Beni, 35 miles southwest to Butembo after ignoring medical advice.
WHO staff are on site to quickly trace and vaccinate those who have come into contact with the patient, The Hill reports.
But Mr Salama said the potential for further infection could “change the trajectory of the outbreak”.
Two more suspected cases are in the city, the DRC’s Ministry of Health reported on Wednesday.
Since August 28, 11 more cases of the highly contagious illness have been reported in the Central African country, WHO confirmed.
In an attempt to contain the virus, aid workers have educated nearly 2.5 million Africans on how to reduce the risk of it spreading.
But officials admitted they are struggling to locate the area where the disease is being transmitted because the source of the outbreak lies near a dangerous conflict zone.
Saturday marked a month since the start of the latest outbreak, with 122 cases of Ebola reported so far.
Of the cases, the WHO said nearly 70 percent of patients died despite health officials rolling out treatment drugs.
This is the second Ebola outbreak this year in which the new vaccine has been deployed. The vaccine, developed during the waning days of an Ebola outbreak in the West African nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, was earlier deployed to Equateur Province, a region about 750 miles west of North Kivu.
None of those who received the vaccine in Equateur subsequently fell ill.
Since the Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976, there have been 14 confirmed outbreaks, mostly in Congo — or, as it was then known, Zaire. The outbreak in West Africa killed more than 11,300 people, by far the deadliest of any epidemic. The latest outbreak is already the ninth-deadliest of its kind.
As we reported in May, the World Health Organization is planning to try out an experimental Ebola vaccine to fight an outbreak of the virus in a remote area of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The global health agency says 39 people have been reported or confirmed infected with the virus, which kills between 20 percent and 90 percent of victims, depending on the strain and the care they get.
“We are very concerned and we are planning for all scenarios, including the worst-case scenario,” said Dr. Peter Salama, WHO’s deputy director general for emergency preparedness and response.
It’s the ninth Ebola outbreak in the DRC since the virus was first discovered there in 1976, when the country was named Zaire.
The last outbreak was last year.
“Even though it’s a remote, rural area, which usually gives us a sense of reassurance in the sense of an outbreak, the problem is that we already have three separate locations that are reported cases that cover as much as 60 km (37 miles) or more,” Salama told a news conference.
The area’s near the Congo River, which carries people to the capital of the DRC, Kinshasa; as well as to the Republic of the Congo and to the Central African Republic.
“The overall risk is considered high at the national level due to the nature of the disease,” WHO said.
People have some of the same cultural practices that contributed to Ebola’s explosive spread in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, including the common use of faith healers and burials that involve handling the body. The virus spreads through bodily fluids, including vomit and blood.
Plus healthcare workers have been infected, and Salama said infected healthcare workers can spread the virus to people they are caring for.
WHO said it had released $1 million to spend on supplies and aid. There are no major roads. It takes 15 days to get to the area by motorbike, so Salama said officials were talking about coordinating helicopter flights and clearing a runway for plans to land.
“It’s going to be tough, and it’s going to be costly to stamp this out,” Salama said.
The experimental Ebola vaccine was developed right at the end of the west African epidemic, and tests at the time showed it protected people from the killer virus.
Researchers who tested it used the same strategy that was used to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s. Called ring vaccination, it calls for vaccinating people who have been in contact with patients, and contacts of contacts.
But the vaccine must be kept in especially cold conditions — far below the level of normal freezers — which makes transporting it in such a remote region a challenge.
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
September 7th, 2018