Lab tests confirmed Ebola virus infections in five more people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), according to the World Health Organization's (WHO's) online dashboard today.
The new cases lift the outbreak total to 458, which includes 410 confirmed and 48 probable cases. The death total is 263, and health officials are still investigating 75 suspected cases.
Per-week cases decline
In a weekly report from the WHO African regional office that covered 28 cases reported between Nov 23 and Dec 1, the group said the number of illnesses declined from 46 reported the week before. Weekly deaths dropped from 22 reported 2 weeks ago to 19 last week.
Three more infections were reported in healthcare workers, raising the total to 43 illnesses in health workers, 12 of them fatal.
Based on locations of cases reported over the past 3 week weeks, Beni, Katwa, and Kalunguta are still the hot spots.
Contact tracing, a key part of the outbreak response, is still challenging because of insecurity and pockets of community resistance. Of contacts lost to follow-up, most were from Beni. The report said, however, that the search for lost contacts has been intensified, especially in Beni.
Efforts are also under way to address community resistance and security concerns. For example, the WHO said a group of youth leaders who were hostile to safe and dignified burial and vaccination have been trained and integrated into response teams. And negotiations are still underway with armed groups in Kalunguta, considered a security "red zone," allow response activities to resume.
'Grave concern,' yet hope
Officials said though the DRC's Ebola outbreak is still a "grave concern," they expressed hope that intensified community engagement and contact tracing efforts will turn the tide in the outbreak's evolution.
Looking ahead, health officials say the next challenge could be large public gatherings during upcoming election campaigns, which could increase the threat of virus spread. The general election is slated for Dec 23 to replace President Joseph Kabila.
The report said a plan has been developed to strengthen epidemiologic surveillance during election season.
Dec 4 WHO African regional office weekly outbreak and emergencies update