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Ebola outbreak threatens city of a million people in DR Congo

18 May 2018
Ebola outbreak threatens city of a million people in DR Congo

The average fatality rate among those infected with the virus is about 50 percent, according to the WHO.

The emergency meeting is to "consider the worldwide risks" of the deadly Ebola virus disease, which has now moved to an urban area of DRC.

"With the new case confirmed in Mbandaka, the scenario has changed, and it has become most serious and worrying, since the disease is now affecting an urban area".

Confirmed cases of Ebola had previously been limited to a remote area more than 160km south of Mbandaka, in the rainforest of Congo's Equateur province. Ebola is endemic in Congo, and this is the ninth outbreak of the disease there since the 1970s. But "urban Ebola can result in an exponential increase in cases in a way that rural Ebola struggles to do". This is the ninth Ebola outbreak in Congo since the 1970s, and the first since May of past year, when five confirmed cases resulted in four deaths.

"This is a concerning development, but we now have better tools than ever before to combat Ebola", said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO.

Apart from WHO and other United Nations agencies, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), as other humanitarian organizations, have teams on the ground, working to contain the outbreak.

There is a "very high" public health risk from Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the World Health Organisation has said.

Earlier on Thursday, WHO Deputy Director Peter Salama said in a tweet that the latest confirmed case marked "a game changer" in the outbreak and would make beating back the virus "much tougher". This new case is linked with the epicentre of the epidemic, the east of Lake Tumba.

BBC graphic

The UN agency is also partnering with nongovernmental organizations, including Médecins Sans Frontières, to ensure that health facilities are ready to treat patients in isolation wards.

As the outbreak continues to grow, fears that it may spread overseas linger as many remember the West African Epidemic in 2014. Since then, an experimental vaccine has been developed, and 4,000 doses have arrived in the Congo, with thousands more to follow.

WHO said 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 north-west DR Congo.

There is no specific treatment for Ebola.

A 2016 study found it to be 100% effective in trials in Guinea in coordination with the country's Ministry of Health after the 2014-15 outbreak.

Using the tried-and-true contact tracing method, officials have identified 382 such people so far.

Ebola is a rare and deadly disease caused by a virus. The city is about 93 miles from Bikoro, where the outbreak was announced last week. The virus was initially transmitted to people from wild animals, including bats and monkeys.