One week after the Democratic Republic of Congo declared a deadly Ebola virus outbreak over, the governor of the country’s northeastern North Kivu province says the country may be facing yet another potential EVD epidemic.
According to the country’s Ministry of Health, four EVD cases have been confirmed by the INRB (the National Institute of Biomedical Research) so far in Mangina, in the eastern Mabalako health zone, Beni region.
Officials said the cases were part of a wider outbreak of hemorrhagic fever in the region, which has killed 20 of the 26 people infected. Health workers sent blood samples from six of those patients to the INRB for analysis, from which four tested positive for Ebola.
The strain is unconnected to the previous Ebola outbreak, which killed 33 people between May and July this year, and affected four separate health regions, including the populous port city of Mbandaka, a crucial economic hub, which lies along the Congo River. The Associated Press noted the locations of the two outbreaks are around 2,500 kilometers, or 1,500 miles, apart.
“Urgent!!!! Urgent!!!!! Ebola VIRUS confirmed in North Kivu province, [Beni] territory […],” North Kivu Gov. Julien Paluku tweeted Wednesday. “The Min[istry] of Health has just announced it after confirmation…[by] the INRB.”
Paluku called for “calm and prudence.”
Urgent!!!!Urgent!!!!! VIRUS à EBOLA confirmé en province du Nord Kivu, Territoire de BENI, agglomération de MANGINA. Le Min de la Santé vient de l’annoncer après confirmation des analyses à L’INRB. J’en appelle au calme et à la prudence. Les médias doivent faire large diffusion
— JULIEN PALUKU (@julienpalukucom) August 1, 2018
Despite the short amount of time elapsed between the two outbreaks, Health Minister Dr. Oly Ilunga Kalenga said early detection in the most recent outbreak was good news.
“Just a week after announcing the end of the ninth epidemic of Ebola virus disease in the Equator Province, the Democratic Republic of Congo is facing a new epidemic,” Kalenga said in a statement. “Although we did not expect to face a tenth epidemic so early, the detection of the virus is an indicator of the proper functioning of the surveillance system.”
The newest DRC outbreak remains relatively contained for now, unlike its most recent cousin, which sparked fresh fears about a repeat of the 2014 West African outbreak that killed more than 11,000 people.
Ebola is a viral hemorrhagic fever, found mostly in nonhuman primates and fruit bats. It can be transferred to humans after contact with an infected animal and is passed between humans through blood or bodily fluids like saliva, sweat, urine, semen, or breast milk. The disease is not air- or water-borne.
Infected persons typically exhibit flu-like symptoms such as fever, muscle pain, weakness, diarrhea, and vomiting, and some may experience more severe symptoms, such as sudden hemorrhaging. It has a case fatality rate of approximately 50 percent.
According to the AP, DRC health ministry officials are sending a team of 12 experts — including lab techs, doctors and psychologists, and epidemiologists — to Beni on Thursday “to set up a response.” The team will be equipped with a mobile laboratory and protective equipment.
It’s unclear whether officials will deploy the V920 Ebola vaccine as they did for the last outbreak. During that epidemic, health workers administered the vaccine to nearly 7,000 people across four health zones using the ring method, inoculating anyone who may have come into contact with an infected individual. The World Health Organization and local health officials credited the vaccine — which had an astoundingly high efficacy rate during human trials in late 2016 — and the swift global response with ending the crisis.
Researchers recently announced a host of new troublesome developments associated with the Ebola virus.
In July, a paper published by The Lancet revealed the disease’s viral persistence — or the inability of an infected host to rid itself of the virus — may be longer than previously realized. As ThinkProgress previously reported:
…Health workers identified an EVD cluster in Liberia in 2015, long after a past outbreak in the region had been declared over, which included three infected individuals: an infected 15-year-old boy, his brother, and his father. The infections appeared to be phylogenetically related to a similar outbreak in the region from August 2014.
Researchers concluded that the boys’ mother had become infected during the August 2014 outbreak but was never diagnosed, and that she had inadvertently spread the virus to her family after living with it, unaware, for a year.
Additionally, researchers in Sierra Leone last Thursday announced they had discovered a new strain of Ebola in several bats from the northern Bombali district. Tracey Goldstein, a pathologist at University of California, told Science News that, while it was “definitely related to other Ebola viruses,” the newly discovered strain “was quite different.”
“We don’t really know where on the spectrum [the Bombali virus] stands,” she said. “I don’t think people should be alarmed.”
Still, she cautioned, humans should avoid contact with the bats for the time being, until more research on the strain could be conducted.