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Why this Ebola outbreak is different

Since April 2018, the WHO estimates the number of cases of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo at 42, including 23 deaths and with 2 confirmed laboratory cases. In the past Democratic Republic of Congo outbreaks, their remote nature helped implement containment measures to reduce the spread of the outbreak. In fact, the Democratic Republic of Congo has a good history of controlling Ebola.

What is different this time is that the current outbreak is spread over at least 60km, including sites along the Congo River, which acts as potential dissemination route to large urban areas, including the capital Kinshasa and its 9 million inhabitants. Worryingly, the first case has now been notified in the large city of Mbandaka on the nearby river bank.

This has increased concerns that another large outbreak may spiral out of control, added to the fact that it took some delay notifying the first few cases.

How to contain spread of the Ebola virus

To contain Ebola, it is essential to rapidly identify persons that may have been in contact with suspected cases to protect them, and protect those in contact with them, including healthcare workers.

Safe burial of the deceased is paramount to avoid further spread. To help with this, the WHO has already supplied body bags to affected communities, and a first batch of 4000 experimental vaccine doses, protective against the Ebola Zaire strain, with a further 4000 expected soon.

Epidemiologists are currently tracking down over 4000 contacts of patients to monitor the spread of the outbreak. Only achieving this will help ring fence Ebola to avoid another large outbreak.

Dr Nicholas Locker
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