Over the weekend and through today, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) reported 16 new Ebola cases in several locations in and around the main hot spots.
In other developments, health officials are starting to worry about the Ebola vaccine supply, especially if it's needed to curb widespread disease in one of the DRC's urban locations.
Latest cases in 8 cities
The 16 cases reflected in the health ministry's daily updates for Dec 1, 2, and 3 and were from eight different locations: Beni (5 cases), Katwa (3), Vuhovi (2), Kalunguta (2), Mutwanga (1), Komanda (1), Butembo (1), and Masereka (1).
Komanda is north of Beni and is in Ituri province, while the other locations are located south of the city. Katwa is located just east of Butembo, the largest urban setting for cases reported so far.
Twelve more deaths were reported, which involved 6 patients in Beni, 4 in Butembo, 1 in Butembo, and 1 in Komanda.
The latest developments lift the overall outbreak total to 444 cases, including 396 confirmed and 48 probable cases. The fatality count has reached 260 deaths.
Health officials are still investigating 72 suspected Ebola cases, with the number of people vaccinated reaching 39,277, roughly half of them from Beni, the outbreak's main hot spot.
Recruiting women for response
The health ministry said in its Dec 2 report that health officials have decided to take more steps to involve women in the outbreak response to strengthen community engagement, given that they are pillars of their household and play an important role in commercial activities.
The agency said workshops for women's groups recently took place in Beni and Butembo, and for the next month, the new communicators will be paired with response teams in the field to help ease some of the community resistance that is still present in some neighborhoods.
In the DRC's latest outbreak, females have made up a large number of cases—61% of confirmed and probable cases, according to totals at the end of November.
Concerns about vaccine supply
In other developments, as Ebola continues to spread in the DRC with no end of the outbreak in sight, health officials are starting to worry if the Ebola vaccine supply would run short if the virus spreads more widely in urban locations like Butembo, where several cases have already been reported, or in Goma, North Kivu province's capital, Stat reported today.
The concerns about the vaccine supply were aired by Peter Salama, MD, the World Health Organization (WHO) deputy director-general for emergency preparedness and response. He told Stat that officials are regularly in touch with Merck, the vaccine's developer which has committed to maintain a 300,000-dose stockpile. As of yesterday, 42,000 doses has been used between the DRC's two Ebola outbreaks this year, an earlier event in Equateur province in the west and the current outbreak centered in North Kivu province in the east.
Salama told Stat that Beni's population is 400,000 and Butembo's numbers about 1 million, which would quickly exhaust vaccine supplies if the immunization strategy shifts from the current ring vaccination to a broader geographic approach, as some have suggested.
Merck told Stat that it takes about a year to produce a batch of vaccine, and while some of the stockpiled vaccine is already in vials, much is kept in bulk, which can take 4 to 5 months to put into vials.
Dec 1 DRC update
Dec 2 DRC update
Dec 3 DRC update
Dec 3 Stat story