Congo: more than 1,000 cases in second worst Ebola outbreak ever

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More than 1,000 people have been infected with the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the second largest outbreak if the disease until today.

Through their Twitter account, the Congolese Ministry of Health announced that 634 people have died. The outbreak was first declared in August 2018, and has worsened by the increased violence in eastern Congo, where rebel groups have attacked treatment centers.

A month ago, on February 24, a center that was run by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) was “violently attacked […] and partly burned”, according to their website. Days later, another treatment center, also run by MSF, was attacked. In total, five health centers have been targeted by assailants.

Butembo is the district in Congo with the largest number of rebel groups in activity. As a result of the frequent attacks, MSF has left the district. Besides the difficulties in continuing treatment of patients with Ebola, it is also difficult to get to the regions under rebel groups control and assess the transmission and spread of the disease.

Public mistrust of authorities and foreigners have slowed down the fight against the outbreak, together with lack of information regarding the disease. Asymptomatic patients might be spreading the virus unknowingly. Also, the inability to recognize the symptoms might extend exposure to Ebola within the community.

Vaccination and proper burial are two of the most important measures to slow down the spread of the virus. After the largest outbreak of Ebola in history, between 2013 and 2016, in West Africa, a vaccine was developed, which has been able to slow down the spread. Congolese Ministry of Health, alongside the World Health Organization (WHO), have vaccinated 85,000 people, including aid workers.

Until now, no cases have crossed international borders, according to WHO. However, last Wednesday authorities confirmed a case of Ebola in the city of Bunia, home to approximately one million people.

Ebola symptoms include fever, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and bleeding. It has an average fatality rate of 50%, which emphasizes the importance of being able to trace infection and contact between infected people. The last Ebola outbreak killed more than 11,000 people in a 3 year period.

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