DRC confirms 2 Ebola infections, probes suspected cases

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) today declared a new Ebola virus outbreak in a northwestern province, with two confirmed cases so far, coming almost a year since the country's last outbreak began in a different remote location.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement today that the new outbreak is located in Bikoro, in Equateur province on the shores of Lake Tumba. The town is roughly 40 miles from the Republic of Congo border. The cases were reported from Ilkoko Iponge health facility, about 18 miles from the town of Bikoro (see Google map below), which has very limited health facilities and few supplies.

Of samples collected from five sick patients and sent to the national biomedical research laboratory in Kinshasa, two were positive for Ebola virus. The WHO said more specimens are being collected for testing.

21 suspected cases in past 5 weeks

Over the past 5 weeks, 21 cases of viral hemorrhagic fever have been identified in and around Ilkoko Iponge, 17 of them fatal.

The WHO said it is working closely with the DRC's government to quickly scale up operations and response, similar to that involving an Ebola outbreak in 2017 in the remote northern Bas-Uele province that resulted in four deaths and another four illnesses. The WHO was first notified of the suspected cluster on May 11, 2017, and on Jul 2, it declared the outbreak was over.

Peter Salama, MBBS, MPH, WHO deputy director-general for emergency preparedness and response, said in the statement that the top priority is to get to Bikoro to work with the DRC government and its partners to reduce deaths and illnesses related to the new Ebola outbreak. "Working with partners and responding early and in a coordinated way will be vital to containing this deadly disease," he said.

Response kicks into gear

According to the WHO, the first team of experts from the WHO, Doctors Without Borders, and provincial health officials traveled to Bikoro today to help with coordination and response. The WHO released $1 million from its emergency contingency fund to support the response over the next 3 months, and it has set up its incident management system to funnel staff and resources to the outbreak area.

The WHO said in the coming days it will deploy epidemiologists, logisticians, clinicians, infection prevention and control experts, risk communication specialists, and vaccination support teams.

In the 2017 outbreak, regulatory committees in the DRC approved ring vaccination with the unlicensed Ebola vaccine, but it was not used during the outbreak.

Ebola is endemic to the DRC, which has battled the disease nine times since the virus was first identified in 1976.

See also:

May 8 WHO press release

Jul 3, 2017, CIDRAP News story "WHO declares end of Ebola outbreak in DRC"

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