Health & Wellbeing

Two new but separate Ebola outbreaks flare up in Africa

Two new but separate Ebola out...
The World Health Organization investigating an outbreak of Ebola in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
The World Health Organization investigating an outbreak of Ebola in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
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The World Health Organization investigating an outbreak of Ebola in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
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The World Health Organization investigating an outbreak of Ebola in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The World Health Organization is rapidly responding to a pair of new Ebola outbreaks in Africa. The two unrelated outbreaks, in Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo, have both appeared in locations previously connected to Ebola flare-ups.

The first outbreak was announced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on February 7th. To date, four cases have been detected in Butembo, a city in the North Kivu Province. Two of those cases have died.

The primary case in DRC is claimed to be the wife of an Ebola survivor from a prior outbreak. Butembo was an epicenter for the second largest-ever Ebola outbreak, officially declared over in June 2020.

It’s unclear how the woman contracted the virus, but the WHO is hypothesizing it is possible the case is linked to her husband. Sporadic cases have, in the past, been linked to surviving patients who can harbor traces of the virus for months after recovering.

Scores of close contacts have already been identified and isolated, while the WHO has rapidly commenced vaccinating health workers in the area.

“The expertise and capacity of local health teams has been critical in detecting this new Ebola case and paving the way for a timely response,” says WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti. “WHO is providing support to local and national health authorities to quickly trace, identify and treat the contacts to curtail the further spread of the virus.”

A second outbreak, this time in a rural community in Guinea, Gouéké in the N’Zerekore prefecture, is of even more concern to world health authorities. So far six people have presented with Ebola-like symptoms after attending a recent funeral. All six were hospitalized and two have since died. Guinean authorities have confirmed three positive Ebola cases while other lab work is ongoing.

These are the first cases of Ebola reported in Guinea since 2016, which saw the world’s worst ever ebola outbreak beginning in a similar geographical location. That prior outbreak spread to neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia, ultimately taking 11,000 lives.

“It’s a huge concern to see the resurgence of Ebola in Guinea, a country which has already suffered so much from the disease,” says Moeti in a recent WHO statement. “However, banking on the expertise and experience built during the previous outbreak, health teams in Guinea are on the move to quickly trace the path of the virus and curb further infections.”

The good news is these new cases of Ebola are most likely related to the same strain of the virus responsible for recent outbreaks. Called Zaire ebolavirus, this strain is known to be responsive to a recently developed vaccine.

Both new outbreaks are occurring in regions familiar with the virus. This is allowing for the swift deployment of health care workers well versed in tackling this particular problem.

Mohammed Mukhier, from the Red Cross, suggests more than 700 volunteers have already been activated in Guinea following an “epidemic preparedness and response” strategy previously devised for this very scenario.

“Time is of the essence,” says Mukhier. “The resurgence of the virus in Guinea comes at the worst possible time when the country is already facing the COVID-19 pandemic. There are reasons for fear, but there are also reasons for hope. While we are extremely concerned, we are also reassured by the lessons we learned from previous outbreaks, and by recent medical advances.”

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