Public Health

WHO warns of the potential for extra Ebola circumstances after a girl dies within the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Health care workers prepare to vaccinate people for suspected Ebola to take precautionary measures against the disease on July 27, 2019 in Butembo, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

JC Wenga | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The World Health Organization warned Monday of a possible Ebola resurgence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo after a woman died of the disease.

The woman lived in Butembo, a town in North Kivu province and the epicenter of a previous Ebola outbreak that was declared over in June, according to the Ministry of Health of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

More than 70 people who came into direct contact with the woman during her contagion have already been identified, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday during a press conference from the agency’s Geneva headquarters.

“No other cases have been identified so far,” said Tedros. “But it is possible that there will be more cases because the woman has been in contact with many people after she became symptomatic.”

In contrast to the highly infectious coronavirus, which can be transmitted by people without symptoms, it is believed that Ebola spreads mainly through people who are already visibly ill. The virus spreads through direct contact with the blood or body fluids of people who are sick or have died of the disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The virus can also spread through the semen of men who have recovered from the disease, the CDC says. The woman who recently died in Butembo was married to an Ebola survivor, the WHO said.

Ebola has an average death rate of 50% which, according to the WHO, can vary depending on the outbreak.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s National Institute for Biomedical Research is sequencing samples of the virus at its main laboratory in Kinshasa, the country’s capital, to see if the woman’s recent death has been linked to the previous butembo outbreak, the WHO said.

The Ebola outbreak, declared in June, lasted almost two years. It was the second largest in the world and at the time of its end there were a total of 3,481 cases and 2,299 deaths, according to the WHO.

WHO noted that efforts to respond to outbreaks in North Kivu province have been particularly difficult due to the ongoing violent conflict in the area, which is occupied by over 100 different armed groups, according to Human Rights Watch.

WHO has sent a quick-acting team to Butembo, Tedros added, and vaccine doses are on the way. According to the WHO, there are currently two approved Ebola vaccines. Tedros didn’t say what’s on the way to the area.

“Thanks to the enormous capacity built during the last outbreak, the provincial health authorities have extensive experience in responding to Ebola and preventing it from spreading,” Tedros said on Monday. “We hope the vaccination will start as soon as possible.”

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