New Ebola Outbreak Spreading in Congo “Active War Zone”
“NAIROBI — An Ebola outbreak in eastern Congo has moved into its most worrying stage yet, with the World Health Organization’s head of emergency response warning of a “perfect storm” of factors preventing its containment,” the Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
The current outbreak is taking place in an active war zone, and on Saturday afternoon a rebel militia staged an hours-long attack in Beni, the city closest to the outbreak’s epicenter. Local media offered conflicting reports, but at least 14 civilians were confirmed killed, according to the Congolese government.Washington Post; September 25, 2018
In July, according to an NBC News report, an outbreak of Ebola in May in the northwestern part of the Congo – in the Equator Province – had been contained and no new case had been reported in 42 days. Because symptoms can take up to 21 days after exposure, this meant that two incubation periods had then passed. In that outbreak “Congo’s health ministry says 53 people were infected and 33 died.”
Even as mobilizers helped people understand precautions for mitigating spreading the deadly virus, it is now more fully understood by scientists and researchers after the 2014-2016 epidemic – which claimed the lives of more than 11,000 people – that in some cases, “Ebola survivors can infect people months later. Men can transmit the virus in their semen and now, doctors have confirmed that a woman who survived the 2014-2016 epidemic in West Africa probably infected her family.”
Scientists are investigating the possibility the virus lay dormant and may have been reignited due to lowered immunity after giving birth then passed to her newborn through breastfeeding, then infecting her family as they cared for her. Nothing is concrete, but it is an avenue of speculation and investigation.
By August, only days after the last outbreak was reported contained, a new Ebola outbreak was reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but this one on the other side of the country separated by over 1,500 miles in the eastern region which borders with Uganda.
However, this is the first time Ebola has been seen in this part of the country, but “lab tests confirmed it is the same strain as the previous outbreak, which started in early May,” according to a Washington Post report on August 8.
Dr. Oly Ilunga Kalenga, Congo’s health ministry said in a statement at the time, “twenty people have died and 26 people have symptoms that could indicate any number of viral infections, including Ebola,” and that “of the six samples analyzed, four were positive for Ebola virus,” Kalenga said,” NBC News reported, with Kalenga adding, “there was no indication that the two most recent outbreaks…are related.”
The August outbreak was the “third outbreak in just over a year in the Congo” and the 10th known in that country since 1976 when the Ebola virus was first discovered.
It’s the third outbreak in just over a year in Congo. This time, the country could be ahead of the game. Thousands of doses of vaccine were shipped to the country during the last outbreak and the health ministry geared up to test samples, educate people about the spread of the virus and get experts to the site of the outbreak quickly.
“Although we did not expect to face a 10th epidemic so early, the detection of the virus is an indicator of the proper functioning of the surveillance system put in place by the General Directorate for Disease Control,” Kalenga said.NBC News; August 1, 2018
By mid-August, NPR had reported that the World Health Organization (WHO) had reported “51 confirmed cases and 27 probable cases of Ebola in the regions, with 44 people (17 confirmed, 27 probable) having died of the disease,” and because security concerns “were preventing aid workers from reaching certain areas” it was making the spread of the virus more possible.
WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told reporters in Geneva, NPR said, via a Reuters wire report, “at least 1,500 people could be exposed to the virus …. the worst-case scenario is that we have these blind spots where the epidemic could take hold that we don’t know about.”
Ebola lives in what health officials call the “animal reservoir” — meaning it can be contracted only by being bitten by an infected animal (most commonly bats and monkeys), by handling an infected animal or by eating the meat of one. Some Congolese diets include wild animals, among them bats and monkeys, commonly referred to as bushmeat.
The outbreak that started in May was confined to Equateur province, along the heavily trafficked Congo and Ruki rivers.Washington Post; August 8, 2018
According to Washington Post’s Tuesday report, “about 100 people have died and 150 cases of the virus have been confirmed across two vast provinces, North Kivu and Ituri.” Saturday’s conflict has been blamed on an Islamic group known as the Allied Democratic Forces, but that “establishing culpability is difficult due to “dozens of armed militias active in the eastern Congo.”
Another worrying development was the escape of an Ebola patient who later turned up in the lakeside town of Tchomia. That town has served as the disembarking point for tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the conflict, who pack onto boats that take them to Uganda, on the other side. The patient later died. Her partner, whom she took with her, is in an isolation ward in nearby Kasenyi.Washington Post; September 25, 2018