Ebola cases continue steady rise over holiday period

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) health minister Oly Ilunga, MD, made Christmas Day visits to Ebola outbreak responders, but frontline workers saw no let-up in cases over the long holiday weekend with 22 more cases reported since Friday over a broad area.

Ilunga visited Butembo first, then toured an Ebola treatment unit under construction in Katwa Health District before wrapping up his day by surprising the team in Beni by showing up at their daily meeting.

He praised Ebola workers across the country and around the world who are working over the holidays on the outbreak response. "For this commitment and sacrifice, the Minister of Health said that they deserve the respect and recognition of an entire nation," the ministry said yesterday in its daily update.

New cases span several locations

Of the 22 new cases are from eight different locations: Katwa (7), Mabalako (3), Beni (3), Butembo (3), Kalunguta (2), Oicha (2), Musienene (1), and Komanda (1), according to separate daily reports between Dec 22 and today from the DRC's health ministry. The new cases boost the outbreak total to 585 cases, which includes 537 confirmed infections and 48 listed as probable.

Also, officials reported 13 more deaths, raising the overall outbreak fatality count to 356. Six of the latest deaths occurred in community settings, a factor that raises the risk of spread, given that the sick people weren't isolated in Ebola treatment units and that viral levels are at their highest when patients are severely ill.

As of today, health officials are still investigating 74 suspected Ebola cases.

The World Health Organization (WHO) African regional office said yesterday in its weekly outbreak and health emergencies report that Katwa, Komanda, Beni, Butembo, and Mabalako are the main hot spots.

Newly affected zone, voting delay for some

It added that a previously reported death of a patient in Komanda has been reclassified to the newly affected health zone of Nyankunde in Ituri province. Response activities need to be intensified in the Nyankunde area with the emergence of a new confirmed case in the area, the WHO noted.

New confirmed cases continue to be reported that don't have clear epidemiological links to other cases, which is especially challenging the WHO said.

The upcoming general election is slated for Dec 30, and the WHO said large gatherings related to that in the outbreak region could pose a risk of further Ebola spread.

However, the already-postponed election will be postponed in certain communities where Ebola infections have been reported, the Associated Press reported today. The announcement today by the country's electoral commission could stir further unrest, given that the opposition party criticisms that the move will hurt their chances at the polls.

According to the AP story, areas in and around Beni and Butembo in North Kivu province and Yumbi in Mai-Ndombe province will vote in March, long after the results announcement on Jan 15 and the inauguration of a new president 3 days later.

Vaccination ring to open in Kinshasa

The number of people vaccinated since Aug 8 has now reached 53,031, the health ministry said today.

In a recent development, the WHO's African regional office said in its weekly report yesterday that a new vaccination ring will be opened in Kinshasa, the country's capital, surrounding a contact from Katwa health zone.

See also:

Dec 22 DRC update

Dec 23 DRC update

Dec 24 DRC update

Dec 25 DRC update

Dec 26 DRC update

Dec 25 WHO African regional office weekly report

Dec 26 AP story

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