The number of Ebola cases confirmed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) grew by 5 today, including 3 from a security red zone in Kalunguta health zone, the country's health ministry said today in its daily update.
Meanwhile, high-level talks are under way between global health officials in the DRC to see what more can be done to shore up the security situation in the outbreak zone and what other resources the country needs to battle the virus.
More illnesses, deaths probed in Kalunguta
The DRC's health ministry said several Ebola infections have been identified in a Mayi-Mayi village in Kalunguta health zone, located in a red zone, following the escape of a patient from Beni who fled to the village to evade response teams.
On Sep 23 the health ministry had said that a patient from Beni had escaped from a treatment center in Beni and was found in an unsecured part of Kalunguta health zone, but it's unclear if that patient is the one linked to the spurt of new cases from the area. Overall, 6 cases have been reported in Kalunguta health zone, including one reported yesterday.
Since the outbreak began in the conflict-ridden part of the DRC, health officials have continually warned of the risk of the disease circulating undetected in insecure areas where it's difficult and dangerous for responders to identify cases, trace contacts, and get people vaccinated.
Outbreak responders negotiated with village leaders to organize an investigation mission to examine people who are sick and probe deaths that have occurred in the previous weeks, the health ministry said. "So far, villagers have been cooperative, and vaccination has begun." According to today's update, 507 people in Kalunguta have been vaccinated.
One of the new cases in Kalunguta involves a 6-day-old baby boy of an infected mother who died on Nov 4 at an Ebola treatment center in Butembo. The mother's symptoms began 5 days before her son was born.
The other new cases reported today are in Beni and Butembo. Three new deaths reported involve people from Beni, Butembo, and Mabalako. The new developments push the outbreak total to 305, which includes 270 confirmed and 35 probable cases. The death total has now reached 189.
Health officials are still investigating 60 suspected Ebola infections in the region.
WHO, UN officials visit Goma today
A delegation from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (UN) are in the DRC this week to assess the country's needs in battling the outbreak and securing the affected areas. The group includes WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, Peter Salama, MD, the WHO's director-general for emergency preparedness, and Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the under-secretary-general for the UN peacekeeping forces.
According to the WHO, the group is expected to visit Beni tomorrow and will be in the DRC until Thursday.
On Twitter today, Lacroix said the group met with North Kivu province's governor in Goma today. He also tweeted, "The health workers in the Ebola affected zone do crucial work amidst a difficult security environment. They need our full support." Lacroix added that MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, is actively supporting the DRC's government to improve security. He added that the health and safety of North Kivu's civilians is the group's greatest priority.
CDC director warns Ebola could become endemic
At a Capitol Hill briefing yesterday, Robert Redfield, MD, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the situation in the DRC's latest outbreak is so serious that international health officials need to consider the possibility that it can't be contained and that the disease would become endemic in the area, the Washington Post reported. The briefing was held by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Experts at the briefing said that if Ebola transmission in the DRC shifts to an endemic pattern, the spread of the virus would be sustained, be unpredictable, and have major implications for trade and travel. They noted that the population of North Kivu province, where most of the cases have been reported, is larger than the whole population of Liberia, one of the three countries affected in West Africa's outbreak.
They also said an uncontrolled, endemic situation could drive a shift in vaccination strategy in which health officials would consider vaccinating broader population rather than the current ring vaccination plan that focuses on contacts and contacts of contacts, according to the Post report.
In August, because of the shaky security situation in Beni, the outbreak's main hot spot, the CDC pulled some of its experts.
Nov 6 DRC update
Jean-Pierre Lacroix Twitter account
Nov 5 Washington Post story