A genetic analysis of the Ebola virus from a new outbreak of the disease in Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC's) North Kivu province confirms that it isn't related to a recent outbreak in Equateur province, and other lab testing has confirmed three more cases in the latest outbreak.
On Twitter today, Peter Salama, MD, the World Health Organization's (WHO's) deputy director-general of emergency response, said the genetic testing at the National Institute for Biomedical Research (INRB) in Kinshasa has confirmed that the Ebola Zaire virus found in North Kivu isn't closely linked to the Equateur outbreak strain, confirming the North Kivu outbreak is a new event.
He also said the confirmation means that responders can start using the VSV-EBOV vaccine, which targets the Ebola Zaire strain, as early as tomorrow.
Oly Ilunga, MD, the DRC's health minister, who also announced the sequencing results on Twitter today, said the country's ethics committee has cleared a plan for vaccination to begin tomorrow. In a separate statement, the health ministry said the first vaccination teams will arrive in Beni tomorrow to vaccinate primary health providers before shifting to contacts and contacts of contacts.
Conventional polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing at the INRB on three of the initial patient samples from the North Kivu outbreak highly suggested that the Ebola Zaire strain was the cause of the outbreak, but the WHO had said genetic sequencing is needed to definitively confirm the species.
In briefing notes sent to journalists today, the WHO said the cold chain refrigeration system to store the vaccine arrived in Beni on Aug 5 and will be operational sometime today.
A team of vaccination experts from Guinea will be deployed to help with ring vaccination targeting health workers and contacts, and a revised research and vaccination protocol was expected yesterday. A clinical team with experimental drugs is expected to arrive in the area today.
Three new confirmed cases
In its daily outbreak update, the DRC's health ministry reported 3 more lab-confirmed cases, raising that number to 16. Overall, there are 43 cases, which includes 27 probable cases. Health officials are investigating an additional 46 suspected cases, up from 31 reported the day before.
Two more deaths were reported in confirmed case-patients, one from Beni and one from Mabalako.
Most of the confirmed and probable cases are from five health zones in North Kivu province, but two of the probable cases are from a health zone in neighboring Ituri province, according to the health ministry's report.
Response gains quick traction
In other developments, the WHO said two treatment centers are being set up, one in Beni staffed by Alima and one in Mangina, the outbreak epicenter, covered by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) France.
Safe burials have been conducted in Beni, and systems are being set up to ensure that safe and dignified burials occur in affected health zones, with two sites already covered in Beni and Mangina.
To help minimize the spread to the DRC's neighbors, health officials have notified the governments of Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, and South Sudan about the outbreak and the need for heightened surveillance, especially in areas bordering North Kivu province. The WHO added that response teams have identified 28 key entry points that need beefed up surveillance and capacity to detect and respond to potential new Ebola cases.
In its update, the WHO warned that the cost of the response is likely to be significant, especially given a security situation that involves active armed conflict with rebel fighters and an area that is home to about 1 million displaced people. The group has already released $2 million from its emergency contingency fund.
So far, there are 30 staff in or on their way to Beni, with teams also headed to Mangina, the WHO said.
Peter Salama Twitter feed
Oly Ilunga Twitter feed
Aug 7 DRC health ministry report