Ebola outbreak has been declared by the World Health Organization after the Democratic Republic of the Congo confirmed two cases of the deadly viral hemorrhagic fever.
Not less than 10 more cases are suspected in the northwestern town of Bikoro, Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe-Tamfum, the head of the DRC’s National Institute for Biomedical Research, said Tuesday.
In the past five weeks, the DRC has seen 21 suspected cases with Ebola-like symptoms and 17 deaths.
A team of experts from WHO, Doctors Without Borders and the central African country’s Provincial Division of Health traveled on Tuesday to the outbreak area. WHO said in a statement that it is working with the DRC government to “rapidly scale up its operations and mobilize health partners using the model of a successful response to a similar EVD [Ebola virus disease] outbreak in 2017.”
“Time is of the essence,” WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic told HuffPost. “The faster you get to the core of the outbreak and the quicker you get in place those necessary measures ― isolating those people who are sick, identifying contacts they know ― it [increases] the chances you have that the virus will not spread somewhere else.”
All means of air travel and other transportation methods are being used to get to the town quickly, Jasarevic said. He noted that the team is currently in discussions about setting up a mobile laboratory unit and whether to deploy some of the Ebola vaccines.
Last year’s DRC outbreak was contained shortly before an agreement on using the vaccine was reached, so using it this year would mark its first deployment in that country.
Ebola is considered endemic in the DRC. This is the second outbreak there in less than a year and the ninth since 1976, when the virus was discovered by the Ebola River ― thus resulting in its name. In May 2017, an outbreak led to eight infections and four deaths. The average fatality rate for Ebola is 50 percent.
The last major Ebola outbreak swept through West Africa more than two years ago and killed more than 11,300 people and infected 28,600.