Ebola outbreak: Doctors scramble to distribute vaccine as deadly disease returns

15 May, 2018, 15:08 | Author: Keith Rowe
  • Health officials are preparing for the'worst Ebola outbreak yet

The World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed the killer disease has reared its ugly head again in Africa between April 4 and May 13 in devastating figures released today. DRC has seen 18 deaths over the past five weeks, but Congolese authorities together with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other global groups have now mobilized staff and resources to contain the virus.

As STAT News' Helen Branswell notes, the World Health Organization plans to employ a "ring vaccination" process, administering the vaccine to anyone who may have had contact with the infected individuals. The Guinea field trial in 2016 found the vaccine to be 100 percent effective at preventing infection among the 6,000 people who received it. The epicenter, a town called Bikoro, is hard to reach by vehicle because of poor roads between it and the regional capital, Mbandaka.

Three health professionals have already been infected with suspected Ebola, one of whom has died. While outbreaks in remote areas usually mean the disease can be contained, on this occasion suspected cases have been reported in three locations spread over 60km.

"This is an experimental vaccine, not a licensed product, and there are a lot of complications", including ensuring it is stored at the correct temperature, Salama said.

The regions affected by the outbreak, however, abut larger cities capable of spreading the virus much more quickly, including the port city of Mbandaka, which has a population of 1.2 million and sits directly along the Congo River, a major economic lifeline. Contact tracing efforts are already underway.


"We must situate the index case in each site to see if the cases are linked or if they are separate epidemics", said Muyembe, who was in the team that researched the first recorded Ebola outbreak. WHO's director-general met President Joseph Kabila and traveled to Bikoro together with DRC Health Minister Oly Ilunga.

"I just arrived in Kinshasa, DR Congo with the Regional Director for Africa, Dr Moeti Matshidiso and the WHO Deputy Director-General, Emergency Preparedness and Response, Dr Pete Salama".

The unlicensed vaccine, manufactured by Merck, could be used as early as next Monday, according to Reuters.

The country has experienced eight Ebola outbreaks over the past four decades. Here are some of the most recent epidemics.

The disease is believed to be hosted by bats but the blood and bodily fluids of animals is how the disease is thought to have transmitted to humans.

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