Ebola vaccine arrives in DR Congo amid outbreak


An outbreak of Ebola, once confined to remote rural areas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, now has spread to an area just outside of city of more than one million people, health officials said Thursday.

As the outbreak continues to grow, fears that it may spread overseas linger as many remember the West African Epidemic in 2014.

In this photo taken Saturday, May 12, health workers don protective clothing as they prepare to attend to suspected Ebola patients at Bikoro Hospital in Bikoro, Congo.

"Since the announcement of the alert in Mbandaka, our epidemiologists are working in the field with community relays to identify people who have been in contact with suspected cases".

Previously the disease was suspected in patients only in rural parts of the country, but reaching the city of Mbandaka makes the outbreak, which was first reported on May 8, significantly bigger than previously thought.

Authorities will intensify efforts to monitor and trace the Congo population at all air, sea and road access routes, Mr Ilunga said.

Mbandaka, a city of nearly 1.2 million people, is in a busy travel corridor in Congo's northwest Equateur province and is upstream from the capital, Kinshasa, a city of about 10 million.

"The arrival of Ebola in an urban area is very concerning and WHO and partners are working together to rapidly scale up the search for all contacts of the confirmed case in the Mbandaka area", WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said in a statement.

The city is on the banks of the Congo River which connects to the capital Kinshaha, hundreds of kilometres to the south, and also to surrounding countries, increasing the risk of a national and regional outbreak, according to World Health Organization officials.

Only one of the 25 dead has been confirmed as Ebola, it said, adding that no new health professionals have been contaminated.

At present the teams of healthcare personnel are trying to look for all the contacts of the infected person to seek out those at risk.

The Ebola vaccine called rVSV-ZEBOV - has been shown to be safe in humans and highly effective against the virus, according to the WHO.

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

World Health Organization also sent 300 body bags to DRC to ensure those who had died from the virus were safely buried. The rituals around traditional burial practices are an issue that "always draws a lot of attention and reticence and complication", he said. The WHO has sent 4,000 doses to Congo and said it will dispatch thousands more as needed in the coming days. On average, about 50% of people who become ill with Ebola die.

Symptoms include fever, diarrhea, muscle pain and at times internal and external bleeding.

The virus is endemic to DRC, and causes an acute, serious illness, which is often fatal if untreated.