A fourth patient has been sickened in cluster of Ebola cases in South Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) outbreak, as overall activity in the affected area remained high owing to movements in and out of hot spot areas, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today.
Meanwhile, health officials reported 7 new cases, raising the overall outbreak total to 2,934.
New South Kivu case
In its latest weekly snapshot of the outbreak today, the WHO said the fourth South Kivu case involves the father of a child who was one of the first two cases identified recently in South Kivu province's Mwenga health zone.
The first two patients were the child and mother who were exposed to the virus in Beni before they traveled about 435 miles south the South Kivu province. The third was a patient in a health facility where the first patient had initially sought care.
In Pinga, a remote area where an Ebola was recently detected, officials so far haven't found any epidemiologic links to other cases or recent travel or visitors from other affected areas of the DRC. The WHO said the illness there poses a challenge not only because of its remoteness, but also because of security and resistance among the patient's family.
Officials brace for more cases
The WHO said that, over the past week, the intensity of transmission didn't change much, but it continues to see high numbers, sustained local activity, and movement of infected people in and out of three hot spots: Beni, Mandima, and Butembo.
It also added that an emerging cluster in Mambasa, which has piled up 14 cases in the past 21 days, poses a high risk of transmission.
Eleven probable cases have been added, raising that number to 105, the WHO said. The illnesses involve people who died in the community in four different health zones from March through June and who couldn't be sampled for lab testing.
The WHO said it is bracing for more cases and spread to new areas, based on another temporary suspension of Ebola activities on Aug 19 over a community protest in Beni, Butembo, and Oicha in response to the latest round of attacks on civilians by armed groups.
Response operations resumed the next day, but the WHO said it anticipated more demonstrations and added that past interruptions have been followed by increases in cases and spread of the disease to new areas.
Seven newly confirmed cases
According to the WHO's online Ebola dashboard today, the DRC reported 7 new cases, based on numbers through yesterday, raising the overall total to 2,934 cases. Health officials are still investigating 382 suspected infections.
Eight more people died from their infections, pushing the outbreak's fatality count to 1,961.
HHS provides vaccine money
In outbreak response developments, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced yesterday that its Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) will provide $23 million to Merck to produce the VSV-EBOV vaccine over the next year.
Rick Bright, PhD, BARDA director, said in an HHS press release that the best way to protect people at home from Ebola is to stop the virus from spreading abroad, and that an effective vaccine is an essential tool for that. "By ensuring that investigational vaccines continue to be available, we aid the global response and, simultaneously, help improve domestic preparedness," he said.
HHS said BARDA will also continue to work with Merck on obtaining Food and Drug Administrtion approval for VSV-EBOV. Also, under an interagency agreement between BARDA and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, BARDA has provided funding for the Department of Defense to transport bulk vaccine materials from Merck's Germany facility to its plant in Pennsylvania that will make the additional vaccine doses.
The new BARDA funding brings its support for VSV-EBOB to about $176 million. As of Aug 16, more than 192,000 people in the outbreak area have been vaccinated based on a compassionate use protocol.
Japan donates response funds
Meanwhile, Japan today announced $5 million in support to assist the DRC with its Ebola response, according to a statement from the country's foreign affairs ministry.
In response to the DRC's request, Japan in July provided emergency relief goods and said it will dispatch an infectious disease response team to help strengthen quarantine and other activities.
Aug 22 WHO update
Aug 21 HHS press release
Aug 22 Japan foreign affairs ministry statement