WHO leader says Ebola outbreak could last 6 more months

Ebola response van
Ebola response van

Diego Gurgel, Secom / Flickr cc

Peter Salama, MD, deputy-director for emergency preparedness and response for the World Health Organization (WHO), told Reuters that the Ebola outbreak in the eastern edge of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) could last at least another 6 months.

"It's very hard to predict timeframes in an outbreak as complicated as this with so many variables that are outside our control, but certainly we're planning on at least another six months before we can declare this outbreak over," Salama said yesterday.

The outbreak in North Kivu and Ituri provinces is now more than 100 days old, and the largest Ebola outbreak the DRC has ever seen.

Today, the DRC's ministry of health recorded two more cases and three more deaths since yesterday—all in Beni—bringing the total number of cases to 341 and the total number of deaths to 215. Fifty suspected cases are under investigation.

WHO details cases among newborns

Yesterday the WHO released its latest situation report on the outbreak, noting that among the 31 cases diagnosed from Nov 5 to 11, seven involved newborn babies. Three cases were also diagnosed in pregnant or breastfeeding women and three in healthcare workers.

To date, women have made up 62% of patients in the outbreak, and 30 healthcare workers have been infected, 3 fatally.

Also in the past week, the virus has spread to new towns, including Kyondo (about 18 miles southeast of Butembo) and Mutwanga (about  31 miles southeast of Beni), the current epicenters of the outbreak.

"Overall trends in the outbreak reflect the continuation of transmission in several cities and villages in North Kivu. Given the persisting delays in case detection and the ongoing data reconciliation activities, trends in weekly incidence (especially in the most recent weeks) must be interpreted cautiously," the WHO said.

The WHO said workers on the ground are receiving an average of 191 alerts for possible Ebola cases each day, and typically 46 are validated as cases needing further investigation.

Beni remains the most affected city in the DRC, with 100 deaths. Mabalako, the first village to be affected by the outbreak, has reported 61 deaths. The outbreak zone is one of the most populous and dangerous regions of the DRC, where more than 1 million internally displaced people live and dozens of armed militia groups are based.

The WHO said the global risk of Ebola in this outbreak is low but maintained that regional risk to neighboring countries like Uganda, Burundi, and Tanzania is high.

Vaccine efforts

Finally, Stat reported yesterday that Merck is applying for US Food and Drug Administration approval for its unlicensed Ebola vaccine, currently being used in the DRC.

The vaccine, provisionally being called V920, was used during the West African Ebola outbreak of 2014-2016 and earlier this year in another outbreak in the DRC.

A total of 30,072 people in the DRC and Uganda have been vaccinated with Merck's vaccine during this current outbreak, the DRC health ministry said. The WHO said 13 vaccination rings exist in the affected health zones.

See also:

Nov 13 Reuters story

Nov 14 DRC update

Nov 13 WHO situation report

Nov 13 Stat story

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