Ebola Endemic In The Congo’s Major City Sends Fear Through Region

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The Ebola virus has begun to pervade the population of the Democratic Republic of Congo once again. However, the epidemic is not contained. For the first time since its discovery in 1976, the virus has migrated to a major city in the DRC, making it difficult for officials to determine what kind of assistance is needed, the type of outbreak to prepare for, and the rate of the virus’ proliferation, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Dr. Peter Salama, the agency’s deputy director, believes that two cases of the virus in Mbandaka are brothers who may have contracted the virus at a funeral. It may be easier to tackle the virus if the transmission chain present is an older one and not one newly developed. It would require work on a new vaccine, resulting in lost time and lost lives.

The virus, journeying through West Africa for the past 40 years, carried out its largest act of violence after the rediscovery of its presence in early 2014 and it lasted over two years; casualties were estimated at about 11,300 by the time it was quelled. According to the New York Times, this outbreak has killed 23 people since its onset in early April, which began in a rural area of the DRC. New attention has been called by the crises after WHO reported a case of the virus in the city of Mbandaka.

On Thursday (May 17), there were three confirmed cases of the virus and 15 other people are being isolated for treatment. “This is a very significant development in the outbreak,” Dr. Salama said. “The challenge will be to stop rapid, explosive expansion of the outbreak in Mbandaka. That becomes the No. 1 priority at this point.”

The doctor called the latest outbreak a “game changer,” as its found its way into an urban area. He said that “urban ebola is a very different animal to rural ebola.” And it’s true. Mbandaka is a port city, situated near the Congo River, a location for the transportation of goods to the capital, Kinshasha. The virus would be difficult to trace should it across borders like goods. According to Dr. Salama, border patrol has been tightened significantly. Arrivals will all be screened. The WHO is rating the risk of expansion to other states as moderate.

Doctors Without Borders has opened treatment centers in Bikoro, a town near the epicenter of the outbreak. The WHO sent 4,000 doses of Ebola vaccine to Kinshasa on Wednesday and are planning to begin vaccinations on Monday (May 21) according to Dr. Salama. Equipment has been sent out, too, but there are myriad other challenges. Due to the geographical makeup of Mbandaka and Bikoro, only small aircraft or helicopters can pass out the resources like chlorine-spray and protective equipment.