Two more people have died from Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s latest outbreak in North Kivu province, the country’s Health Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
That brings the total number of deaths in the latest outbreak to 36, according to the Health Ministry.
Earlier on Tuesday, the World Health Organization confirmed that the latest cases in Congo’s North Kivu province are part of the Zaire strain of the virus and that there is no link to a separate outbreak, which occurred in the western Equateur province that has since been declared over.
“It’s good news and it’s very bad news,” WHO Deputy Director-General for Emergency Preparedness and Response Peter Salama told journalists in Geneva, after the new cases were first confirmed.
“The bad news is that this strain of Ebola carries with it the highest case-fatality-rate of any of the strains of Ebola, anywhere above 50% and higher, according to previous outbreaks,” he said. “So, it’s the most-deadly variant of the Ebola virus strains that we have, that’s the bad news. The good news is that we do have — although it’s still an investigational product — a safe and effective vaccine, that we were able to deploy last time around.”
Experts believe that an experimental vaccine, known as rVSV-ZEBOV, made a difference in containing the previous outbreak. New vaccinations are expected to start as early as Wednesday, Salama said.
A total of 43 cases of hemorrhagic fever have been reported in North Kivu province, of which 16 are confirmed and 27 are probable, said the ministry. Authorities are investigating an additional 46 suspected cases, according to the ministry.
The two new deaths were reported in the towns of Beni and Mabalako, in the northern part of the province, according to the ministry. Ebola cases have also been reported in the towns of Butembo, Oicha, Musienene and Mandima, said the ministry.
WHO is working with partners in the local communities to provide information to residents on how to protect themselves from the deadly virus and answer their questions — steps that are crucial to control an outbreak, said WHO.
Congo’s Health Ministry announced on August 1 that a cluster of new Ebola cases have been reported, just days after it declared that an outbreak in Equateur province that claimed 33 lives had ended. That outbreak was the ninth recorded outbreak that Congo has seen since the virus was first discovered in 1976.
The ongoing outbreak will be the tenth for the country.
‘A very, very complex operation’
The longstanding conflict in eastern Congo presents a number of challenges for the medical teams as they try to contain the deadly virus.
Thousands in the region have been displaced by fighting between rebel groups and government forces.
People fleeing violence and crossing the border into neighboring Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi, taking the infection with them, add additional risks, said Salama, adding that measures at crossing points are being implemented.
“It’s going to be a very, very complex operation,” Salama told journalists in Geneva on Friday.
“On the scale of difficulty, trying to extinguish a deadly outbreak pathogen in a war zone” is at the top of the scale, he said, according to a UN transcript.
The main challenges during the previous Ebola outbreak in Equateur province involved tracing anyone who had come into contact with suspected carriers of the disease. In some cases, WHO staff had to travel hundreds of miles on a motorbike to do this work, said Salama.
Containing the deadly virus amid the high level of insecurity in the Kivus could prove to be even more challenging, he added.