At least 97 people have died as a result of an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), according to the World Health Organization’s most recent figures.
This is the second large-scale Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) epidemic the country has faced in less than a year.
The outbreak, first reported in early August, is centered in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces, and appears to be unrelated to the earlier Equateur province outbreak, some 1,500 miles away, which killed at least 33 people earlier this year.
So far, authorities in DRC have reported a total of 142 confirmed and probable EVD cases, including the 97 deaths, 66 of which were confirmed. Additionally, at least 19 health workers have been infected, three of whom were among the deceased.
Of those infected, an estimated 56 percent are female patients, with most between the ages of 25-34 years old. Among men, the most affected age group were those 35-44 years old.
According to reports, 38 patients have been treated and released from various Ebola treatment centers across the region.
As with its predecessor, health officials are working to contain this most recent outbreak using the new Ebola Zaire vaccine, V920, and administering it using the ring method — tracking down anyone who may have had contact with those infected and inoculating them against the disease. As of this week, more than 10,000 people have been vaccinated since early August.
WHO officials say they’re also focusing on outreach among certain communities that may be more hesitant about vaccines in general, meeting with patients and their families to teach them about the disease and explaining the necessity of such a response.
“We are seeing fewer cases of Ebola each day in DRC, but with each new case is always the possibility of a super spreading event that could re-launch the entire outbreak,” Peter Salama, WHO deputy director-general for emergency preparedness and response, tweeted Tuesday. “… Although the number of people vaccinated…surpassed the 10,000 mark yesterday, we are focused on the individual families and communities where there is less acceptance of the vaccine, to answer their questions and explain this intervention.”
The North Kivu-Ituri outbreak is of particular concern to global health officials given the large, vulnerable refugee population that resides there. As ThinkProgress previously noted, the region is home to approximately 1 million displaced individuals, most of them domestic refugees fleeing violence between the government and armed rebel groups. The density of the population, combined with poor living conditions, could allow the disease to spread quickly and aggressively.
Additionally, the affected region shares a border with Rwanda and Uganda. Frequent trade movement between these countries presents a convenient vector by which the virus might travel from place to place.
WHO officials have warned against any travel or trade restrictions on the country, but urged neighboring nations to “enhance surveillance and preparedness activities.”
“There are still significant threats for further spread of the disease. Continued challenges include contacts lost to follow-up, delayed recognition of EVD in health centres, poor infection control in health centres, and cases leaving health centres and refusing transfer to Ebola treatment centres,” they stated. “While the majority of communities have welcomed response measures, in some, risks of transmission and poor disease outcomes have been amplified by unfavourable behaviours, with reluctance to adopt prevention and risk mitigation strategies.”
Ebola is a viral hemorrhagic fever found predominantly in nonhuman primates and fruit bats, which can be transmitted to humans after contact with an infected animal. The disease is passed between humans through blood or bodily fluids. It is not air- or water-borne.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infected persons typically exhibit flu-like symptoms such as fever, muscle pain, weakness, diarrhea, and vomiting. Some may experience sudden hemorrhaging or bruising.