More Ebola cases as WHO weighs emergency declaration

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) recorded six more cases of Ebola over the weekend, including three community deaths, which raise more concern about the spread of the disease in the region.

The new cases lift the outbreak total to 211, including 135 deaths. Twenty-four suspected cases are still under investigation.

On Saturday, the DRC health ministry confirmed two cases in Beni, and yesterday recorded two more cases in Beni, and one each in Masereka and Butembo. There are now 104 confirmed or suspected cases from Beni, which makes that city the new epicenter of outbreak activity.

The current outbreak began in August in Mabalako, the initial hot spot, which to date has 94 confirmed or suspected cases.

"Beni #DRCis epicenter of Ebola outbreak now due to a toxic mix of factors driving the increasing force of infection: acute insecurity limiting access to affected communities & families; chronic mistrust in the community after years of conflict; and fear and rumours about #Ebola," Peter Salama, MD, the World Health Organization's (WHO's) deputy director-general of emergency response, said on Twitter.

According to Salama, 75% of all cases confirmed this month occurred in Beni.

On Oct 13, Oly Ilunga Kalenga, MD, the DRC's minister of health reviewed the situation in Beni, and said the second wave of cases seen in recent weeks is not part of the known contacts identified in epidemiologic investigations.

Kalenga did say, however, that authorities were getting more notifications of possible cases, meaning recent efforts to increase surveillance in Beni have proved effective.

Community deaths threaten region

Of the new cases reported yesterday, three were community deaths, which means the deaths occurred outside of a health care facility or an Ebola treatment center.

The DRC said the three deaths involved dignified and secure burials, but community deaths always increase the risk of Ebola transmission, because viral loads often at their highest level at the time of death.

The DRC is continuing to use Merck's unlicensed Ebola vaccine in a ring vaccination campaign. Since Aug 8, 16,973 people have been vaccinated, including 6,832 in Beni.

Tedros convenes emergency panel

Today the director-general of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, announced a meeting of the Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations, which will take place in Geneva on Wednesday. The goal of the meeting will be to determine if the ongoing situation in eastern DRC constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, and what recommendations should be made to manage the outbreak.

On Sep 28, the WHO raised the risk assessment of national and regional levels from high to very high due to ongoing security challenges in the region.

Today Stat reported that American health personnel from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were pulled from the outbreak zone last month because of local insecurity. According to Stat, the order to remove personnel came from the State Department.

See also:

Oct 14 DRC update

Oct 13 DRC update

Peter Salama Twitter feed

Oct 14 Stat story

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