DRC Ebola cases approach 500 as infections continue

Ebola vaccination
Ebola vaccination


Over the weekend and through today the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DCR) reported 13 new Ebola cases in several outbreak areas, as neighboring South Sudan prepared to vaccinate healthcare and frontline workers in bordering regions.

New cases in multiple locations

Of the 13 new cases, 3 are in Mabalako, one of the initial hot spots that has seen a recent resurgence of Ebola activity. Four patients are from Katwa, an area just east of Butembo, and 2 are in Beni, the outbreak's main epicenter. Four more locations each reported 1 case: Mambasa, Kyondo, Butembo, and Vuhovi.

In its Dec 8 update, the DRC health ministry added 8 older cases to the total, part of ongoing efforts to clean up the database. That and the new cases lifts the overall outbreak total to 498 cases, 450 of them confirmed and 48 listed as probable.

Also over the past 3 days, the health ministry reported 9 more deaths, including 2 in Beni, 2 in Mabalako, 2 in Butembo, and 1 each in Mambasa, Katwa, and Vuhovi. The death toll as of today stands at 285.

The two patients from Mabalako and the ones from Katwa and Vuhovi are all listed as community deaths, occurrences that pose a high risk of spread, given that Ebola virus levels are highest during severe illness and at the time of death. Also, those caring for sick people at home don't have the personal protective equipment found in Ebola treatment units.

In its update today, the health ministry said that, over the past 6 weeks, Ebola cases and deaths have been increasing in Butembo and Katwa because of community resistance, health infrastructure destructions, and physical aggression faced by response teams. At a media briefing in Kinshasa on Dec 6, Heath Minister Oly Ilunga Ilunga, MD, called the increase disturbing and said more teams are being sent to Butembo, a major urban area, and surrounding health zones to strengthen response operations.

Health officials are still investigating 73 suspected Ebola cases. In its Dec 8 report, the health ministry said a patient who died from a suspected Ebola infection at a hospital about 62 miles northwest of Goma, the provincial capital, tested negative for the disease. It commended the hospital's medical team for calling the toll-free emergency number, isolating the patient's body, and identifying contacts while lab testing was under way.

Meanwhile, the number of people vaccinated continues to rise, and the VSV-EBOV campaign has immunized 43,944 people.

South Sudan to immunize at-risk people

In other outbreak developments, South Sudan's health ministry, with support from several health partners, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, announced plans to vaccine healthcare and frontline workers in high-risk states that border the DRC.

South Sudan is one of three DRC neighbors deemed to be at very high risk of Ebola importation. The country is on high alert, but no confirmed cases have been detected. The step is part of South Sudan's national preparedness efforts and follows a similar campaign announced last month to vaccinate the same groups against Ebola in Uganda.

In a Dec 8 statement, the WHO's South Sudan office said a 60-person vaccination team underwent 4 days of training in the country's capital city of Juba last week. Members are from four states: Juba, Yei, Yambio, and Nimule.

According to the WHO, 2,160 doses of VSV-EBOV, Merck's experimental Ebola vaccine, have been allocated for the South Sudan campaign, and vaccination is slated to begin on Dec 19 in Juba. Those who are vaccinated will be followed up for 21 days.

See also:

Dec 8 DRC update

Dec 9 DRC update

Dec 10 DRC update

Dec 8 WHO South Sudan office statement

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