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Ebola outbreak spreads to Mbandaka city
Posted on 17/05/2018 5 shares

HealthThe Democratic Republic of Congo

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The Ebola outbreak in Congo has spread from the countryside into a city, meaning the disease will be increasingly difficult to control.

Ebola spreads from the countryside to cities

Ebola spreads from the countryside to cities
©Riccardo Lennart Niels Mayer/123RF

In Mbandaka, a city 80 miles from the area where the first case was reported earlier this month, a new case has just been confirmed.

The city is a major transportation hub with routes to the capital Kinshasa.

The BBC reports that forty-two people have now been infected and 23 people are known to have died.

Ebola is a serious infectious illness that causes internal bleeding and often proves fatal. It can spread rapidly through contact with small amounts of bodily fluid and its early flu-like symptoms are not always obvious.

According to the BBC, senior World Health Organization (WHO) official Peter Salama said the outbreak's shift to a major city meant there was the potential for an "explosive increase" in cases.

"This is a major development in the outbreak," he told the BBC. "We have urban Ebola, which is a very different animal from rural Ebola. The potential for an explosive increase in cases is now there."

Mr Salama, the WHO's Deputy Director-General of Emergency Preparedness and Response, said Mbandaka's location on the Congo river is widely used for transportation. This raised the prospect of Ebola spreading to surrounding countries such as Congo-Brazzaville and the Central African Republic as well as downstream to Kinshasa, a city of 10 million people.

"This puts a whole different lens on this outbreak and gives us increased urgency to move very quickly into Mbandaka to stop this new first sign of transmission," he said.

Confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola have been recorded in three health zones of Congo's Equateur province, the WHO said.

The organisation said that health workers had identified 430 people who may have had contact with the disease and were working to trace more than 4,000 contacts of Ebola patients, who had spread across northwest Congo.

On Wednesday more than 4,000 doses of an experimental vaccine sent by the WHO arrived in the country with another batch expected soon.

The vaccine from pharmaceutical firm, Merck, is unlicensed but was effective in limited trials during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

It needs to be stored at a temperature of between -60 and -80 degrees celsius. Electricity supplies in Congo are unreliable.

Observers said the rapid response of international bodies, delivering personnel and medical supplies, showed how seriously this latest outbreak was being taken.

New York-based Ebola expert Dr Laurie Garrett told the BBC, "we've really seen a remarkable and very rapid mobilisation in this case".

"The logistic issues getting to this very remote area are quite considerable, and it will also be considerable on the ground to identify who should be vaccinated and to get out in this vast and very difficult area and provide vaccination in an appropriate way".

"It's never been done before in the midst of an exploding outbreak so we'll watch it very closely."