In a bulletin published Saturday, August 4, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported a total of 43 Ebola virus disease (EVD) cases from the latest outbreak in northeastern DRC, including 33 deaths. An additional 33 cases are suspected in this outbreak, which began in mid- to late-July. The current EVD cases are located in five health zones in North Kivu province, particularly around the town of Beni, and one health zone in Ituri province, with further cases under investigation in another health zone in Ituri. Health officials also announced plans to begin an experimental vaccination campaign beginning Wednesday, August 8. The vaccine was used against a previous EVD outbreak in Équateur province earlier this year.
North Kivu and Ituri are home to 1 million displaced people from conflicts in eastern DRC and neighboring countries and people in the region frequently cross the border into Rwanda and Uganda. As such, there exists a possibility that the outbreak will spread outside the DRC.
Isolated outbreaks of the EVD occur occasionally in the DRC, mostly in remote areas. The latest outbreak was declared by government authorities on May 8, 2018, in Equateur Province, over 2500m km (1550 mi) away from North Kivu. In that outbreak, which officially ended on July 24, 54 cases were reported, including 33 fatalities. There is no evidence that the two outbreaks are connected.
Despite a scant healthcare system, international health organizations operating in the country, as well as the local population, are well versed in responding to the disease and can do so effectively. However, the security situation in the North Kivu, home to several armed groups, may render these actions difficult.
EVD is extremely virulent. The disease is transmitted to humans via direct contact with the blood, secretions, organs, or other bodily fluids of infected animals. The disease can then be transmitted between humans and is highly contagious, particularly during the hemorrhagic phase. Ebola is characterized by the sudden onset of high fever, weakness, joint and muscle pain, and headache. A sore throat is also a common early symptom. These symptoms are followed by nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, kidney and liver failure, and, in some cases, internal and external bleeding.
Travelers should avoid the area and monitor the situation. To prevent the spread of EVD:
- Avoid contact with infected individuals and any items that have been in their close proximity
- Avoid consuming bush meat and only handle animals when wearing gloves and the appropriate protective wear
- Animal products (meat and blood) should be thoroughly cooked before consumption
- Adhere to a strict observance of hygienic precautions (wash hands regularly, etc.)
- Avoid crowded areas (stadiums, markets, train stations, etc.) In case of doubt, individuals should seek immediate medical attention and comply with all directives issued by local health authorities.
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