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18 May 2018, 10:29 | Randall Craig
Congo's Ebola risk 'very high' as confirmed virus cases rise
The Ebola outbreak in Congo risks running out of control with the first suspected case reported in a city of over 1 million.
Apart from WHO and other United Nations agencies, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), as other humanitarian organizations, have teams on the ground, working to contain the outbreak.
"What we're saying though is that urban Ebola is very different phenomenon to rural Ebola because we know that people in urban areas can have far more contacts so that means that urban Ebola can result in an exponential increase in cases in a way that rural Ebola struggles to do". The city is about 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Bikoro, the rural area where the outbreak was announced last week, said Congo's Health Minister Oly Ilunga.
The fear is if the virus reaches large urban areas, it could spread quickly, with devastating consequences.
The aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres said 514 people who are thought to have been in contact with infected people were now being monitored.
Two suspected cases of hemorrhagic fever were reported in the Wangata health zones that include Mbandaka, the capital of northwestern Equateur province.
"We are entering a new phase of the Ebola outbreak that is now affecting three health zones, including an urban health zone", Ilunga said in a statement.
"This is a concerning development, but we now have better tools than ever before to combat Ebola", said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO's director-general. That brings to three the number of confirmed Ebola cases. It can spread rapidly through contact with small amounts of bodily fluid, and its early flu-like symptoms are not always obvious.
An experimental but highly effective vaccine is being deployed, with health workers being vaccinated first, but it normally needs to be kept -80 Celcius in a humid region where daytime temperatures hover around 30.
The WHO said the risk of the disease spreading was "high" and announced it was preparing for the "worst case scenario".
In 2014, a major Ebola epidemic in west Africa killed more than 11,000 people.
Ebola is notoriously hard to contain, though recent outbreaks in Congo have been managed swiftly by the government and global health institutions.
Lacking an arsenal of drugs to treat or prevent the virus, doctors use classic tactics of isolating patients and tracing people who have been in contact with them.
Salama said that isolation and rudimentary management facilities had been set up in Mbandaka.
More doses of vaccine are expected to be shipped out, a World Health Organization spokesman said earlier in the week. It is often transmitted to humans through the consumption of contaminated meat, but it can also be acquired through any kind of close contact with an infected animal.
He said the disease could have been taken there by people who attended the funeral of an Ebola victim in Bikoro, the south of Mbandaka, before travelling to the city.
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