Ebola outbreak in DR Congo believed to have killed 33

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Officials in the African nation have confirmed three deaths so far (pictured: Doctors Without Borders team members walk through an Ebola security zone at the entrance of a hospital in DR Congo, where a fresh outbreak of the virus was declared in the east of the country)


A fresh Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo is feared to have killed at least 33 people.

Officials in the African nation have confirmed three deaths so far but believe the virus – considered one of the most lethal pathogens in existence – is responsible for scores more.

A mass vaccination campaign will begin this week to stem the outbreak, which comes two weeks after the DRC declared the end of another one, considered a ‘public health emergency’.

Virologists feared that outbreak was ‘reminiscent’ of the 2014 Ebola pandemic, which decimated West Africa and killed 11,000 people.

But the new outbreak in the East of the DRC is on track to dwarf the one that sparked international panic in earlier this summer in the North West.

The Ministry of Health has confirmed 13 cases of Ebola in North Kivu Province – which borders Uganda and Rwanda. Another 25 are probable.

Officials in the African nation have confirmed three deaths so far (pictured: Doctors Without Borders team members walk through an Ebola security zone at the entrance of a hospital in DR Congo, where a fresh outbreak of the virus was declared in the east of the country)

Officials in the African nation have confirmed three deaths so far (pictured: Doctors Without Borders team members walk through an Ebola security zone at the entrance of a hospital in DR Congo, where a fresh outbreak of the virus was declared in the east of the country)

A further five probable cases have been noted in Ituri Province – which also borders Uganda and shares a crossing with South Sudan.

Officials are currently testing 33 other suspected cases in the laboratory to either confirm or exclude EVD.

EVD, caused by the virus with its namesake, kills around 50 per cent of people it strikes – but there is no proven treatment available.

Three healthcare workers have been struck down by Ebola, of whom one has died.

The unsafe burial of a 65-year-old Ebola sufferer triggered the latest outbreak in the DRC, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

After she was buried members of her family began to display symptoms of the virus ‘and seven of them died’.

Most of the cases have been recorded in the district of Mangina, 18 miles (30km) west of the city of Beni.

HAS THE DRC HAD AN EBOLA OUTBREAK BEFORE? 

DRC escaped the brutal Ebola pandemic that began in 2014, which was finally declared over in January 2016 – but it was struck by a smaller outbreak last year.

Four DRC residents died from the virus in 2017. The outbreak lasted just 42 days and international aid teams were praised for their prompt responses.

The new outbreak is the DRC’s tenth since the discovery of Ebola in the country in 1976, named after the river. The outbreak earlier this summer was its ninth.

Health experts credit an awareness of the disease among the population and local medical staff’s experience treating for past successes containing its spread.

DRC’s vast, remote geography also gives it an advantage, as outbreaks are often localised and relatively easy to isolate.

But healthcare workers have been told they will have to navigate their response among more than 100 armed groups.

A WHO spokesperson said: ‘This is an active conflict zone. The major barrier will be safely accessing the affected population.’

The outbreak earlier this summer 

Vaccinations will begin this week, following the success of the jabs in Equateur province, which two weeks ago declared the end of an Ebola flare-up.

Some 33 people were also feared to have died in that outbreak, which began in the poorly-connected region of Ikoko-Impenge and Bikoro.

It travelled 80 miles (130km) north to Mbandaka, a port city on the river Congo – an essential waterway – with around 1.2 million inhabitants.

There was a concern it would spread to Kinshasa – 364 miles (586km) south on the river, which has an international airport and 12 million people residents.

Dr Derek Gatherer, a virologist from Lancaster University, warned the outbreak earlier this summer was ‘reminiscent’ of the 2014 Ebola pandemic.

All neighbouring countries were alerted about the outbreak of Ebola, which can cause severe bleeding.

Experimental vaccine 

Officials hailed the use of an experimental vaccine called as rVSV-ZEBOV in stemming the Ebola outbreak in northwestern Congo in July.

More than 3,000 doses remain in stock in Kinshasa, allowing authorities to quickly deploy it to the affected areas near the Ugandan border.

Barthe Ndjoloko, who oversees the health ministry’s Ebola response, said officials are working round-the-clock to identify those who may be infected.

He revealed the vaccination campaign will focus on healthcare workers and those who have come into contact with confirmed cases.

The 2014 international response to the Ebola pandemic drew criticism for moving too slowly and prompted an apology from the WHO.

But international aid teams have moved much quicker in response this time – with vaccination campaigns already underway in several regions.

WHAT IS EBOLA AND HOW DEADLY IS IT?

Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever, killed at least 11,000 across the world after it decimated West Africa and spread rapidly over the space of two years.

That pandemic was officially declared over back in January 2016, when Liberia was announced to be Ebola-free by the WHO.

The country, rocked by back-to-back civil wars that ended in 2003, was hit the hardest by the fever, with 40 per cent of the deaths having occurred there.

Sierra Leone reported the highest number of Ebola cases, with nearly of all those infected having been residents of the nation.

WHERE DID IT BEGIN? 

An analysis, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found the outbreak began in Guinea – which neighbours Liberia and Sierra Leone.

A team of international researchers were able to trace the pandemic back to a two-year-old boy in Meliandou – about 400 miles (650km) from the capital, Conakry.

Emile Ouamouno, known more commonly as Patient Zero, may have contracted the deadly virus by playing with bats in a hollow tree, a study suggested.

HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE STRUCK DOWN? 

WHICH COUNTRIES WERE STRUCK DOWN BY EBOLA DURING THE 2014-16 PANDEMIC? (CDC figures)
COUNTRY                                                CASES  DEATHS DEATH RATE (%) 
GUINEA 3,814 2,544 66.7%
SIERRA LEONE  14,124  3,956  28.0% 
LIBERIA  10,678  4,810  45.0% 
NIGERIA  20  40.0% 
SENEGAL  N/A 
SPAIN  N/A 
US  25.0% 
MALI  75.0%
UK  N/A
ITALY  N/A 

Figures show nearly 29,000 people were infected from Ebola – meaning the virus killed around 40 per cent of those it struck.

Cases and deaths were also reported in Nigeria, Mali and the US – but on a much smaller scale, with 15 fatalities between the three nations.

Health officials in Guinea reported a mysterious bug in the south-eastern regions of the country before the WHO confirmed it was Ebola. 

Ebola was first identified by scientists in 1976, but the most recent outbreak dwarfed all other ones recorded in history, figures show.

HOW DID HUMANS CONTRACT THE VIRUS? 

Scientists believe Ebola is most often passed to humans by fruit bats, but antelope, porcupines, gorillas and chimpanzees could also be to blame.

It can be transmitted between humans through blood, secretions and other bodily fluids of people – and surfaces – that have been infected.

IS THERE A TREATMENT? 

The WHO warns that there is ‘no proven treatment’ for Ebola – but dozens of drugs and jabs are being tested in case of a similarly devastating outbreak.

Hope exists though, after an experimental vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV, protected nearly 6,000 people. The results were published in The Lancet journal. 

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