Ebola: Health ministry issues alert

Ebola virus

The death toll from an outbreak of a fresh strain of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo has risen to 34 even as officials say they will begin vaccinations this week to help prevent new infections.

Beni's Ebola response director Barthe Ndjoloko Tambwe said the vaccinations would be given to health care providers, confirmed Ebola victims and those with whom they have been in contact.

"The goal of this communication is, therefore, to request you to enhance your surveillance systems and preparedness and have a high index of suspicion for Ebola, urgently report any alerts to Public Health Emergency Operation Centre", Dr Mwebesa wrote. WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic says some of the people exposed to the deadly Ebola virus might be living in conflict zones and armed guards may have to be used to protect the health workers.

Forty-three cases, 13 confirmed and 30 probable, have been reported, just a week into the outbreak.

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Heavily traveled borders nearby with Uganda and Rwanda also complicate efforts to contain the disease, which is spread via contact with the bodily fluids of those infected, including the dead. More than one million people are displaced there.

Health workers will need to ensure that the vaccines remain refrigerated throughout the supply chain: a tall order in under-developed regions.

Forty-six other suspected cases are being investigated, including 25 in Beni, a trading hub of several hundred thousand people, the ministry said in a statement. Using hi tech protective gear and technology, life-threatening pathogens like the Ebola virus can be safely diagnosed and researched at centers like these. Ebola, first identified in the country in 1976, jumps to humans from animals including bats and monkeys.

Mortality rates of Ebola fever, according to World Health Organization, are extremely high, with the human case fatality rate ranging from 50 percent to 89 percent, depending on viral sub-type.

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