US health worker monitored as DRC Ebola nears 600 cases

MSF Ebola treatment unit
MSF Ebola treatment unit

UNMEER, Simon Ruf / Flickr cc

A US healthcare worker has been flown to the United States for observation after potential Ebola exposure in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where the Ebola outbreak has now grown to 598 cases amid violent protests.

Monitoring in Nebraska

"An American providing medical assistance in the Democratic Republic of Congo recently experienced a possible exposure to the Ebola virus and is in Omaha for monitoring," the Nebraska Medical Center said in a Dec 29 news release.

The health worker has no symptoms, the medical center said. If symptoms begin, the patient will be housed in the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit at the center, which was established to treat people who have serious, high-risk diseases.

"This person may have been exposed to the virus but is not ill and is not contagious," said Ted Cieslak MD, infectious diseases specialist with Nebraska Medicine and associate professor of epidemiology in the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health.

The healthcare worker was transported by automobile and private plane to Nebraska. Monitoring could last 2 weeks, but Nebraska Medical Center said it would not provide updates "unless the need arises" or if the person is transferred to the biocontainment unit.

Staff at the unit treated three patients who had Ebola in 2014 during West Africa's outbreak, including one who died. The center monitored several others in 2015 who never developed the disease.

Politico identified the person as a 39-year-old physician.

Five new DRC cases amid violence

Yesterday and today the DRC health ministry reported 5 new Ebola cases, 2 in Butembo and 1 each in Oicha, Komanda, and Mabalako. They bring the outbreak total to 598 cases, 548 of which have been confirmed.

Four new deaths were also confirmed Dec 29 through today, in Beni, Oicha, Mabalako, and Komanda, bringing the total to 363, for a case-fatality rate of 61%. All of the newly reported deaths were recorded in the community, which means greater virus exposure to family and caregivers and a higher risk of further cases.

On Dec 29 the DRC health ministry reported no new confirmed cases "because of the paralysis of the activities of the riposte [response] in Beni, Butembo, Komanda, and Mabalako." Immunization, contact tracing, and other response efforts have been stopped or dramatically curtailed in recent days because of violent protests.

For example, three health centers in Beni were ransacked on Dec 27 and 28, and two of them burned, Media Congo reported late last week.

The health ministry said on Dec 29, "The activities of the response resumed timidly this Saturday, December 29, 2018, in Beni and Butembo. The rehabilitation works of the Beni Transit Center are underway. The removal of barricades placed on the roads by the demonstrators allowed the ambulances to circulate and recover some sick patients.

"Laboratories in both cities were operational. No vaccination activity took place for the third day in a row. Some dignified and safe burials were made in both health zones."

In its update today the DRC health ministry said Ebola vaccinations have yet to resume, keeping the number of people vaccinated at 53,737. Officials said, however, that they are investigating 47 suspected cases.

Several weeks ago the DRC Ebola outbreak grew to become the second-largest in history. The immense West Africa outbreak of 2014-2016 affected 28,616 people, including 11,310 deaths, for a case-fatality rate of 40%.

The third-largest Ebola outbreak occurred in Uganda in 2000, with 425 cases and a death rate of 53%.

See also:

Dec 29 Nebraska Medical Center news release

Dec 29 Politico story

Dec 31 DRC update

Dec 30 DRC update

Dec 29 DRC update

Dec 28 Media Congo story

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