DR Congo on 'knife edge' after Ebola outbreak

The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has deployed 25 epidemiologists to Mbandaka and Bikoro to support the government’s surveillance work

Patients infected with ebola fled from the isolation ward of a hospital on the Congo River as health workers sought to manage fear and panic as well as preventing the deadly virus from spreading.

"Another left on Saturday, but was found alive the same day and is now under observation".

Dozens of health workers in the northwestern provincial capital, Mbandaka, have received vaccinations amid expectations that some will be deployed to the rural epicenter of the epidemic. "Whether and how to designate a point person on outbreaks is a debate that predates the DRC Ebola outbreak, but the ongoing outbreak has added some urgency to this discussion", they wrote.

The WHO says 58 cases of Ebola have been recorded since the outbreak was declared on 8 May.

The WHO has ruled that the outbreak is not yet a global health emergency but nine neighbouring countries are on high alert.

"We are on the epidemiological knife edge of this response", he added at the United Nations body's annual assembly.

The WHO emergencies chief, Dr. Peter Salama, warned Wednesday that "the next few weeks will really tell if this outbreak is going to expand to urban areas or if we're going to be able to keep it under control".

There is no specific treatment for Ebola. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and at times internal and external bleeding. The virus can be fatal in up to 90 per cent of cases, depending on the strain.

"We ask all those who work in different services here at the beach, even state agents all must be behind the Health Department ... if it (Ebola) reaches your neighbor, it can also reach you", said Alphose Buka, a state official working at the beach.

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"The most important thing we tell them is to protect themselves, and don't touch the bodies if someone dies", said Eddy Eale, another community worker in Mbandaka. It is one of the world's most virulent diseases and is transmitted through direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids of infected people. And the World Health Organization and its partners deployed anthropologists and community messaging in the current outbreak's early days. Those kinds of rumors could profoundly affect people's willingness to be vaccinated.

Some people are refusing medical care and turning to preachers and prayers to chase away the threat. "It is normal for people to want their loved ones to be at home during what could be the last moments of life", Jasarevic said.

Officials are now desperately trying to convince sceptical residents about the severity of the most recent outbreak, which has killed 27 since April/. The programme also contains an additional contingency mechanism, to be drawn upon in the event of serious outbreaks, and use of which is allowing the United Kingdom to respond swiftly to the current situation in the DRC. World Health Organization and governments are working to roll out "pre-position" supplies that might be needed if the virus spreads, Moeti said.

He said there is a "window of opportunity" to get the outbreak under control, but the situation is being monitored on a daily basis and preparations are being made for the worst-case scenario.

He noted particularly since the city of Mbandaka - where the disease was identified after first surfacing in the relatively remote Bikoro - is close to the Congo river, which acts as the main transport link to DRC's capital, Kinshasa. Health officials are undertaking "highly targeted vaccinations".

Experts who have studied the spread of Ebola believe it originated in bats alone the Congo river and infected bush meat.

Ebola virus disease, which causes fever, severe headache and in some cases hemorrhaging, most commonly affects people and nonhuman primates, such as monkeys, gorillas and chimpanzees.

"We started vaccination on Monday, so we are really doing our best. Our job is to do this as fast as we can".

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