DRC Ebola outbreak total rises to 613 infections

The Democratic of the Congo (DRC) has five more Ebola cases, according to updates from the country's health ministry and the World Health Organization's (WHO's) online dashboard. And in the wake of election protest disruptions, all normal response operations have been restored as of Jan 1, the WHO said today.

In another Ebola development, a man in Sweden who got sick after traveling to Burundi was isolated and hospitalized in Uppsala with suspected Ebola, but tests today came back negative.

Though part of Burundi borders the DRC, no cases have been reported from that country.

Death count reaches 370

In a delayed update for Jan 3, the DRC's health ministry today reported one more case, a patient from Komanda in Ituri province. Also, the online dashboard from the WHO's African regional office reflects four additional cases, which would raise the outbreak total to 613 cases, including 565 confirmed and 54 suspected cases. Health officials are still investigating 54 suspected infections.

In addition, the Jan 3 DRC update reported 2 more deaths, 1 in Beni and the other in Butembo, lifting the outbreak's fatality count to 370.

The number of people vaccinated has reached 54,522, according to yesterday's statement.

Regarding vaccination, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said in a Stat interview upon his return from a New Year's visit to the outbreak region that the DRC's Ebola count would be much higher without use of Merck's experimental VSV-EBOV vaccine.

He told Stat that he based his assessment on the fact that infections haven't grown exponentially, though he said the WHO should explore the projected impact of the vaccine on the outbreak through modeling studies.

Nosocomial illnesses, hard-hit groups

In a weekly update yesterday, the WHO said outbreak response efforts continue, despite recent disruptions in Beni and Butembo connected to the Dec 30 national election. It said that, to ensure the safety of staff, operations were scaled back for a few hours on election day but have been fully restored.

The agency warned, however, that, after stepped-up field activities in December that led to a drop in cases in Beni, the outbreak's main hot spot, progress could be lost if prolonged security problems stymie efforts to contain the spread of Ebola.

The report also had more detailed information about healthcare-acquired infections and illness patterns. It said that, as of Jan 2, 86 nosocomial infections have been reported, mainly in Beni, Butembo, Katwa, and Mabalako. No new illnesses in healthcare workers have been reported, keeping that total at 55, including 18 deaths.

Of all cases reported in the outbreak, 22% had a history of exposure to a hospital within 3 weeks of getting sick, the WHO said.

The caseload has been highest in female patients ages 15 to 49 who are eligible for vaccination—meaning they aren't pregnant—followed by women age 50 and older. Females make up 61% of confirmed and probable cases, and there have been 29 illnesses in pregnant women, 14 of them in Beni. Fifteen of the infected women were breastfeeding.

Another feature of the DRC's outbreak has been a higher-than-expected number of illnesses in children. In today's update, the WHO said 16% of cases (96) have been in children younger than 5 years, mostly from Beni, and that 7% (41) involved babies younger than 1.

Contact tracing has been a challenge in light of continuing community resistance and insecurity, resulting in a number of new cases that hadn't been previously identified as contacts. Of all patients, 66% had known contact with an earlier case-patient, 37% had attended a funeral, and 34% had both types of exposure.

Swedish traveler tests negative

Meanwhile, media reports earlier today from Sweden said a man with a suspected Ebola infection was hospitalized at University Hospital in Uppsala. He developed bloody vomiting after a trip to Burundi in central Africa, but was not known to have visited areas where the virus is circulating.

In an update this afternoon, a government statement from Uppsala region said the man had been in Burundi for a number of weeks. It said his tests were also negative for yellow fever, dengue, Marburg, and Rift Valley fever viruses.

The man's symptoms are improving, and test for other infectious diseases are under way. He is no longer in isolation, and the hospital will reopen its emergency department.

See also:

Jan 3 DRC statement

WHO online Ebola dashboard

Jan 4 Uppsala region statement

Jan 4 Stat story

Jan 4 WHO update

Jan 3 WHO situation report

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