New Ebola outbreak detected in northwestern DRC

Ebola volunteer wearing PPE
Ebola volunteer wearing protective equipment

UK DFID / Flickr cc

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) today announced a new Ebola outbreak in Equateur province, the same area hit by an outbreak in 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement.

The event marks the DRC's eleventh Ebola outbreak and comes during the countdown to the end of the country's tenth and biggest outbreak in the eastern part of the country and amid battles against COVID-19 and the world's largest measles outbreak.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said in the statement, "This is a reminder that COVID-19 is not the only health threat people face. Although much of our attention is on the pandemic, WHO is continuing to monitor and respond to many other health emergencies."

Epicenter near transportation hub

The outbreak is centered in the city of Mbandaka in Equateur province's Wangata health zone. So far, six cases have been reported, three confirmed and three probable. Four patients have died. The WHO said more cases are likely to be reported as surveillance expands.

Mbandaka is the provincial capital, and its location on a river is concerning, given its connections to DRC's capital Kinshasa and neighboring countries.

WHO responders are already on the ground in Mbandaka as part of increased capacity established in the area during the 2018 outbreak, and contact tracing is under way. Supplies are being transferred from North Kivu province, where the earlier outbreak is winding down. Another 25 staff members are expected tomorrow.

Health minister Eteni Longondo, MD, MPH, said at a media briefing today that the government would quickly send vaccine and medicine, Reuters reported.

Previous outbreak ended after vaccine deployment

So far, there are no details about the origin of the latest outbreak. The event in 2018 began in two remote, heavily forested regions at the same time and featured health worker infections, a factor known to fuel the spread of the virus.

The VSV-EBOV vaccine was quickly deployed, and the outbreak was declared over on Jul 24, 2018, after 54 cases were reported, 33 of them fatal.

The outbreak in the eastern DRC, which began just a week after Equateur province's last outbreak ended, has been under way since August 2018 and has been wracked by insecurity challenges, including militia attacks on communities and violence directed against the Ebola response.

That outbreak has resulted in 3,463 cases reported, 2,252 of them fatal. If no new cases are reported by Jun 25, the outbreak—the DRC's biggest—will be declared over.

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