DRC Ebola total climbs to 649 led by spike in Katwa cases

In daily updates over the past 4 days, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) health ministry reported 19 more Ebola cases in five locations, though most were from Katwa, one of the latest outbreak hot spots.

In other Ebola developments, an American health worker who may have been exposed to Ebola in the DRC was released from monitoring after remaining symptom-free, and another security incident was reported, affecting responders working in Ituri province.

The continued rise of cases and community resistance is occurring against a backdrop of continuing controversy over the country's recent general election, which officials fear could fuel more protests, especially in outbreak areas where voting was delayed.

Six more community deaths

Of the latest 19 cases, 18 are confirmed and 1 is listed as probable, which the ministry said in its daily report yesterday involves a person who died in Butembo who had an epidemiologic link to a confirmed case, but who could not be tested before burial. The new developments bring the overall outbreak total as of today to 649 cases, which includes 600 confirmed and 49 probable infections.

Fourteen of the most recent cases are from Katwa, located about 7 miles east of Butembo. Officials also confirmed one case each in Butembo, Komanda, Oicha, and Vuhovi.

Ten more people have died from their infections, including six who died in the community in Katwa and Butembo, a factor known to increase the risk of virus spread. The other four deaths occurred at Ebola treatment centers in Butembo, Beni, and Mabalako.

According to today's update, 121 suspected Ebola cases are still under investigation, and the number of people who received the VSV-EBOV vaccine has reached 59,856.

American completes monitoring

An American health worker who was potentially exposed to Ebola while working in the DRC in December and was in monitoring at Nebraska Medical Center, which has a biocontainment unit, has been released after passing the 21-day incubation period without experiencing any symptoms or testing positive for the virus.

In a Jan 12 statement, Nebraska Medicine said the individual never developed the disease and poses no risk to the public. "This person, who requested privacy during the monitoring process, left our facility and the city of Omaha this morning."

The health worker, who earlier reports said was a 39-year-old physician, arrived in Omaha for monitoring on Dec 29 in a secure area not accessible to the public or patients. The hospital said if he or she would have developed Ebola, the patient would have been transferred to the biocontainment unit.

Another attack on response workers

In other developments in the outbreak region, residents in the city of Marabo in Ituri province on Jan 11 attacked humanitarian workers who were in the area to build an isolation center in a health facility. The attack prompted the province's acting governor to condemn the violence, according to a Jan 14 report in French from from Radio Okapi, the news network of the United Nations mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and Fondation Hirondelle, a Swiss nongovernmental organization.

According to the report, protesters opposed the construction of the isolation center, because they believe it will bring the disease into the community. An earlier report on the attack said some of Marabo's resident threw stones at the humanitarian workers.

Post-election ontroversy still swirls

Meanwhile, an influential organization comprising 16 African nations—the Southern African Development Community—has called for a recount in the DRC's Dec 30 presidential election, in which main opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi was declared the surprise winner, the UK-based Guardian reported yesterday.

Ahead of the vote, another opposition leader, Martin Fayulu, was expected to win, leading to accusations that Tshisekedi forged a deal with outgoing longtime president Joseph Kabila—in power since 2001—to be declared the winner.

Election monitoring by the DRC's Catholic church, which had deployed 40,000 election monitors, has backed up Fayulu's claims.

Kabila's supporters apparently won a majority in the national assembly in the recent election, solidifying the former president's power.

In late December, the DRC's election commission announced that voting would be delayed in three cities, two of which are Ebola hot spots: Beni and Butembo. The announcement sparked protests that led to temporary disruptions to Ebola response efforts in the two locations.

See also:

Jan 11 DRC update

Jan 12 DRC update

Jan 13 DRC update

Jan 14 DRC update

Jan 12 Nebraska Medicine statement

Jan 13 Radio Okapi report

Jan 12 Radio Okapi report

Jan 13 Guardian story

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