Ebola vaccination trials in West Africa 2015 - Courtesy of WHO
CAIRO – 9 May 2018: The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday confirmed the detection of at least two new cases of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the northwest rural area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It is the ninth Ebola outbreak in the DRC since 1976, when the virus was first discovered in the country. In 2016, WHO had declared that Ebola is officially over following a comprehensive intervention to defeat the virus.
DRC’s Ministry of Health gathered samples on May 3 from residents of Kinshasa (DRC’s capital and largest city) following reports of some 21 cases showing signs of a hemorrhagic fever in the village of Ikoko Impenge in northwest DRC, including 17 deaths, according to a statement by WHO and Congo's government.
WHO, in cooperation with DRC’s Ministry of Health, immediately scaled up its operations in the country to rapidly respond to this health emergency and stop the disease from spreading. The health organization assigned dedicated staff and resources to tackle the outbreak, building on the model of the successful response to a similar EVD outbreak in 2017. The model included prompt testing of new cases detected by local authorities and immediate notification of results to WHO and the Health Ministry’s team.
In a statement on Tuesday, WHO’s deputy director-general for emergency and preparedness response, said, “Our top priority is to get to Bikoro to work alongside the government and partners to reduce the loss of life and suffering related to this new Ebola virus disease outbreak.” He added, “Working with partners and responding early and in a coordinated way will be vital to containing this deadly disease.”
EVD is fatal in 50 percent of cases if untreated; it is transmitted to humans through contact with wild animals, including bats, and it can also be passed from one person to another through direct contact with bodily fluids or blood, according to WHO. In 2014 alone, the virus claimed the lives of more than 11,000 persons and infected some 28,600 persons across six countries in West Africa. Most people who have become infected with Ebola were living with or caring for ill patients. The first symptoms of EVD include sudden fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat, followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function and, at an advanced stage, both internal and external bleeding.
A growing concern regarding this deadly disease is related to the fact that it could spread through the air, as one infected person can pass it on to passengers on a flight. Therefore, some countries might issue a travel warning for several countries in Africa to prevent the spread of the disease internationally. The U.S. was the first country to adopt this measure, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued warnings Thursday to avoid nonessential travel to three West African countries, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to CNN.
WHO, the international Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Air Transport Association are considering passenger screenings in airports as an effort to fight the spread of the disease. In addition, they are working on enhancing the awareness of crew members on EVD symptoms, so that they know what to do if they recognize a case, in addition to developing a response protocol.