At least three people have died in the latest outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), WHO reported in early May this year.

The outbreak is a new development in the country following the deadliest Ebola epidemic in 2014 that had affected multiple countries in West Africa. The Minister of Public Health of the DRC announced that the outbreak is clustered in Likati health district (Aketi, Bas-Uélé province). Nine people were suspected to have contracted Ebola, and three had died. Case fatality rate was 33.3%.

“At this stage, the overall risk is high at national level due to the known impact of Ebola outbreaks, remoteness of the affected area, limited access to health care and suboptimal surveillance,” the minister said.

The extent of the destruction

The outbreak was believed to have begun in late April in the remote region of Bas-Uélé, a province that is 1,300km away from Kinshasa, the capital city of DRC. Ebola was confirmed when blood samples taken from suspected cases were tested positive in the laboratory.

“It is in a very remote zone, very forested, so we are a little lucky,” Said Eric Kabambi, WHO Congo spokesman.

Nonetheless, the disease is speculated to spread rapidly from person to person, as efforts to trace disease contacts had revealed. The first patient, or the index case, was believed to be a 39-year-old man who presented symptoms consistent with Ebola infection – such as fever, vomiting, bloody diarrhoea and nosebleed. He died on his way to the health centre for treatment.

The driver who drove the man to the health clinic, along with another person that helped during the transportation, were reported to develop similar symptoms afterwards. The driver died four days later after the first victim.

Eight outbreaks within four decades

The DRC is no stranger to Ebola outbreaks. According to records of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there had been eight outbreaks in the country within the last four decades. The first Ebola outbreak was recorded in 1976 in Yambuku, a small village in the northeast of the country.

A series of events that happened following the Yambuku outbreak would lead to the first discovery of Ebola virus by Dr Peter Piot and his colleagues. At that time, the DRC was still known as Zaire.

Ebola continues to ravage the country since its first discovery 40 years ago. In the new millennia alone, there were six outbreaks in total, which happened in 2002, 2003, 2007, 2012, 2014, and the most recent 2017 outbreak.

As such, the country is experienced in fighting Ebola and had amassed impressive capabilities to control and contain the deadly disease. It was reported that DRC was able to end the 2014 outbreak within four months while other western African nations took two years to achieve the same result.

WHO spokesperson within the DRC, Dr Allarangar, also confirmed that international aids have been dispatched to the country.

"The first teams of epidemiologists, biologists, and experts in the areas of social mobilisation, risk communication and community engagement, and also personnel specialising in water, hygiene and sanitation, are scheduled to reach the affected area."

New weapon against Ebola

For the first time in history, scientists and public health experts can utilise a newly developed vaccine to combat Ebola. The pharmaceutical giant, Merck, has been developing a highly promising vaccine that could be deployed to contain the spread of the virus.

Currently, there are approximately 300,000 doses of the vaccine readily available to avoid the outbreak from deteriorating into the nightmare of 2014.

Judging from the current situation, there is no immediate threat that the outbreak will spiral out of control. Although there is no need for unnecessary panic, caution should be warranted. MIMS

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