Continuing a recent surge in new Ebola cases, the Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC's) health ministry reported 11 more cases today, including 2 in Beni, an area that had been an epicenter earlier in the outbreak, bringing the outbreak total to 991 cases.
And in its weekly snapshot on the outbreak today, the World Health Organization (WHO) said the recent marked increase in cases that follows many weeks of decline isn't unexpected and partly reflects increased security challenges, especially direct attacks on Ebola treatment centers and pockets of community mistrust—events that bogged down the response for a few days.
DRC officials have logged 55 cases in the past 6 days.
Deaths include baby with unknown exposure
The 11 new cases announced today are in six locations, and all but Beni have reported other recent cases. They include Vuhovi (3), Beni (2), Mandima (2), Butembo (2), and 1 each in Katwa and Masereka.
Of the 991 total outbreak cases, 926 are confirmed and 65 probable. Health officials are still investigating 230 suspected cases.
Also, four more people in the DCR died from their Ebola infections, three in community settings in Katwa, Beni, and Mandima, and one at Butembo's Ebola treatment center. The developments lift the fatality count to 614.
The 11 new cases today comes on the heels of 12 new infections reported yesterday, which were detailed in a report late in the day from the DRC health ministry. Yesterday's cases included an illness from Bunia involving a 6-month-old baby whose parents are apparently healthy. An investigation is under way, including an analysis of breast milk, to determine the source of exposure to the virus.
The WHO had a few more details about the case in its update today, which said the baby died and that the case is the first in that health zone. An earlier case was reported from neighboring Rwampara health zone in early February.
Vaccination passes 90,000
In other developments, the health ministry today noted that the number of people vaccinated with VSV-EBOV has passed 90,000 and has now reached 90,351.
Also, it said a brainstorming session following attacks on the response in Butembo and Katwa resulted in a plan to bolster community engagement by establishing local Ebola virus committees in areas reporting the most community resistance, an approach that was useful in battling resistance in Beni's Ndindi district.
So far, 21 areas have been targeted for setting up the Ebola committees, including 8 in Butembo, 7 in Katwa, and 6 in Vuhovi. Local committee members will be trained on how to help with response operations, such as household decontamination and surveillance.
Some encouraging signs amid challenges
In its overview today, the WHO said Katwa, Butembo, Masereka, and Mandima are the hot spots, accounting for 80% of cases over the past 3 weeks. It added that response teams are fully operational in all areas.
Despite ongoing security challenges, it said it sees some glimmers of improvement in community acceptance to response efforts. For example, more than 90% of people eligible for the vaccine have received it, and more than 90% of them have participated in follow-up visits.
Field testing of suspected Ebola cases is keeping pace, analyzing 1,300 samples weekly, and the aid group ALIMA is scaling up capacity at the Katwa transit center.
Ebola responders are engaging with community members through dialogue platforms in Butembo, Katwa, and Vuhovi, the WHO said.
"This initiative allows community members to participate and lead in decisions regarding Ebola response interventions in their localities," the agency added.
Mar 21 DRC update
Mar 21 WHO update
Mar 20 DRC update