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WHO Provides Update on Ebola Virus Cases in Africa

MAY 16, 2017 | CONTAGION EDITORIAL STAFF
Last week, an alarming report of cases of Ebola virus infection in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was provided to the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO thus tweeted out confirmation of the cases to its Twitter followers, giving the world a strong sense of déjà vu and flashbacks to the horror of the first Ebola epidemic in 2014-2015. This outbreak is the eighth in the DRC’s Bas-Uélé province.
 
The latest information on the WHO website indicates that, “the first [of the now 20 suspected cases in in the Likati health district (Aketi, Bas-Uélé province)] occurred on April 22, 2017 in a 45-year-old male. He was transported by taxi to a hospital and was dead on arrival. The driver [of the taxi] also fell ill and later died. A third person who cared for the first case also became ill and has subsequently died. At present, 25 contacts of the second patient who died are being followed. Of the cases and deaths, 1 has been tested polymerase chain reaction-positive for Ebola." The death toll remains at 3.
 
On May 13, 2017, WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, MD, visited the capital city of Kinshasa in the DRC. Dr Moeti is working with national authorities on an efficient and effective response to the current Ebola outbreak. The capital is located approximately 1400 kilometers from the Likati health district. According to WHO, “the [Likati health district] is situated in the remote, isolated, and hard-to-reach northern part of the country, with limited transport and communication networks—factors that all impeded transmission of information about the suspected outbreak. Currently it takes about 2-3 days to reach the epicenter [of the outbreak] from Kinshasa.” These geographical factors are making it harder to respond quickly to the outbreak.
 
Since the outbreak was reported, the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) was activated to provide support and WHO has pledged to provide “reinforcement of epidemiological surveillance, contact tracing, case management, and community engagement.” In addition, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has been shipped to the area and more will be sent as they are prepared.
 
Further preventive measures are also underway. According to the online news outlet STAT, after confirming with representatives from WHO and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, an experimental Ebola vaccine may be on deck to be used in case the outbreak spreads. This is a big “maybe;” however, because first, emergency use of the unlicensed vaccine would need to be approved by the DRC’s drug regulatory agency. In addition, the logistics of storing the vaccine (which must be stored at -80° Celsius) present additional challenges, should the government choose to use it.

Still, according to the news source, “preparations to have the experimental vaccine ready for use are being made on a parallel track with investigations in DRC into the scale of the outbreak.”
 
WHO has already reactivated the national committee against viral haemorrhagic fever, which meets daily to coordinate response. Additionally, WHO has deployed a multidisciplinary support team to the DRC. Based on the remoteness of the location of the outbreak, it seems to be geographically isolated, and therefore, WHO has not recommended a travel or trade restriction for the DRC at this time. More information will be forthcoming as the outbreak unfolds.
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