The World Health Organisation says it is preparing for “the worst case scenario” in a fresh outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo. WHO has recorded 32 suspected or confirmed cases in Bikoro, including 18 deaths, between April 4 and May 9. The cases include three healthcare workers, one of whom has died. This is the country’s ninth known outbreak of Ebola since 1976, when the disease was ærst identiæed in then-Zaire by a Belgian-led team.
Efforts to contain the latest outbreak have been hampered because the affected region of the country is very remote. “There are very few paved roads, very little electriæcation, access is extremely difæcult… It is basically 15 hours by motorbike from the closest town,” WHO’s head of emergency response Peter Salama said. Cases have already been reported in three separate locations around Bikoro, and Mr Salama warned there was a clear risk the disease could spread to more densely populated areas.
WHO is particularly concerned about the virus reaching Mbandaka, which has around one million inhabitants and is only a few hours away from Bikoro. “If we see a town of that size infected with Ebola, then we are going to have a major urban outbreak,” Mr Salama warned. The organisation has a team on the ground and is preparing to send up to 40 more specialists to the region in the coming week or so.
Nigeria’s government this week ordered that travellers from DR Congo should be screened as an additional security measure after the fresh outbreak was confirmed, but the request was rejected by Nigeria’s health workers’ unions, who have been striking since April 18 over pay and conditions. The country does not share a border with DR Congo but memories are still fresh of an Ebola outbreak in 2014 that killed seven people out of 19 confirmed cases.