The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is struggling with a new outbreak of the Ebola virus in its eastern region – just weeks after the end of a previous outbreak in another part of the country has been announced.
The new outbreak is concentrated around the city of Mangina in North Kivu. The World Health Organization reported 78 likely cases of Ebola, including 44 deaths, in an area with approximately 1 million inhabitants.
An estimated 1 500 people have been identified as contacts of people infected with the disease.
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The virus – first discovered in the mid-1970s in then Zaire, now the DRC – causes fever, vomiting, bleeding and diarrhea. Spread by contact with the blood and body fluids of infected people or animals, it is one of the deadliest viruses in the world and kills up to 90% of the infected. The disease has an incubation period of up to 21 days, which means that it can take up to three weeks for an infected person to show symptoms.
The ongoing conflict in the east of the DRC makes the containment of this latest outbreak a challenge unlike previously seen.
More than 100 rebel groups are active in North Kivu and the neighboring province of Ituri. North Kivu lies on the edge of Uganda and is home to about 8 million people, including as many as one million displaced people living in refugee camps. Beni, the largest city in the region, has been the target of bomb attacks attributed to Muslim militants from across the border.
Military action against the rebel groups is underway with the help of UN peacekeepers, as the region around Beni has been the location of fighting, massacres and kidnappings of civilians in the past.
Oicha, a village 45 kilometers north of Beni, is considered the front line between the army and the rebels. A large part of the population has fled and Ebola has been confirmed there. Without an escort from a UN troop, medical professionals do not have access to the area, which means that medical aid is further strained to detect, control and keep the disease in check.
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Two weeks ago, the Department of Health came to the conclusion that another outbreak in the Equateur province in the DRC had taken place after a vaccine had been tested there. Doctors, nurses and families of patients received the vaccine.
The new outbreak in North Kivu – which health officials seem to have been assailed – is already considerably worse than the earlier Equador who killed 33 people.