Ebola outbreak now DRC's largest ever, with 319 cases

Ebola recovery efforts
Ebola recovery efforts

USAID / Flickr cc

Officials today reported 7 new Ebola cases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC),  raising the outbreak total to 319 confirmed or probable cases, making the outbreak in North Kivu and Ituri provinces the country's biggest in its history.

"On Friday, November 9, 2018, the Ebola Virus Disease epidemic in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri just exceeded that of the first epidemic recorded in 1976 in Yambuku, the province of Ecuador," said Minister of Health Oly Ilunga Kalenga, MD, in a DRC health ministry update.

"No other epidemic in the world has been as complex as the one we are currently experiencing," Kalenga added. "Since their arrival in the region, the response teams have faced threats, physical assaults, repeated destruction of their equipment, and kidnapping. Two of our colleagues in the Rapid Response Medical Unit even lost their lives in an attack."

Even with the extensive use of Merck's Ebola vaccine, the virus has held the region captive as response efforts have been slowed by violent skirmishes and community resistance over the last 3 months.

Seven new deaths, 52 suspected cases

In total, 198 people have died during this outbreak, which is 7 more than the DRC reported yesterday. And 52 suspected cases are still under investigation, up from 40 yesterday, according to the WHO data.

In a disease outbreak update published yesterday, the WHO said substantial progress has been made to control the outbreak, while acknowledging that "there remains a challenging road ahead to control intense transmission in the city of Beni and emerging hotspots in villages around Beni and Butembo."

From Oct 31 to Nov 6, officials have recorded 29 new case, including 15 in Beni, 7 in Butembo, 4 in Kalunguta, 2 in Mabalako, and 1 in Vuhov. Today, one of the new cases was recorded in Kyondo Health Zone, located next to Butembo.

Though no cases have crossed DRC's borders, the WHO said the risk for international spread remains high.

"The risk of the outbreak spreading to other provinces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as to neighbouring countries, remains very high. Over the course of the past week, alerts have been reported from the South Sudan, Uganda and Yemen; EVD [Ebola virus disease] has been ruled out for all alerts to date," the WHO said.

FDA approves Ebola fingerstick test

In related developments, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today announced an emergency use authorization (EUA) for a new rapid results fingerstick Ebola test. The single-use test uses a portable battery-operated reader, which makes it useful for testing outside of laboratories and in remote areas, the agency said in a news release.

The test, called the DPP Ebola Antigen System, is the second rapid fingerstick Ebola test to hit the market.

"This EUA is part of the agency's ongoing efforts to help mitigate potential, future threats by making medical products that have the potential to prevent, diagnosis or treat available as quickly as possible," said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD in a press release.

"We're committed to helping the people of the DRC effectively confront and end the current Ebola outbreak. By authorizing the first fingerstick test with a portable reader, we hope to better arm health care providers in the field to more quickly detect the virus in patients and improve patient outcomes."

The FDA did not specify the accuracy of the test nor provide the data that led to the EUA.

Declining US support

In other US response news, Jeremy Youde, PhD, an associate professor of international relations at the Australian National University, wrote in the Washington Post how exactly the US federal government pulled out on-the-ground support in the DRC in mid-October. Youde quotes an analyst who calls the move part of the "post-Benghazi hangover of the US government's risk aversion."

Despite arguments from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield, MD, to the contrary, the federal government said that keeping American workers on the ground was too dangerous. Other countries, however, including Canada and Great Britain, have personnel in the region, as does the Gates Foundation.

Youde said that, while US involvement wouldn't suddenly end the outbreak, pulling out support sets a dangerous precedent for America.

See also:

Nov 9 DRC update

Nov 8 WHO outbreak notice

Nov 9 FDA news release

Nov 8 Washington Post story

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