An outbreak of Ebola, once confined to remote rural areas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, now has spread to an area just outside of city of more than one million people, health officials said Thursday. The case in Mbandaka is only the third confirmed case of the current outbreak; 20 others are probable, and 21 are suspected, bringing the total potential cases to 44.
One confirmed case of ebola and another suspected in a large port city on the Congo River has deepened fears of an "explosive increase" in the epidemic that could spread across borders.
The WHO was fiercely criticised over its handling of the 2013 outbreak and has pledged to improve emergency response.
The agency said yesterday it was deploying around 30 experts to Mbandaka "to conduct surveillance in the city", including rapid efforts to trace all contacts of the new urban case.
While there is no specific treatment for the deadly disease, which has a 90 percent fatality rate, World Health Organization has shipped thousands of doses of an experimental vaccine to the region.
"With the new case confirmed in Mbandaka, the scenario has changed, and it has become most serious and worrying, since the disease is now affecting an urban area".
Ebola, which can cause multiple organ failure, is passed from human to human by contact through the mouth, nose, or broken skin with blood or other bodily fluids of those infected.
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"This is a major development in the outbreak", he told the BBC.
Those exposed to the suspected Ebola cases will for the first time in Congo receive Ebola vaccinations, the health minister said.
Salama said that isolation and rudimentary management facilities had been set up in Mbandaka. "We have urban Ebola, which is a very different animal from rural Ebola".
The plan is to immunize the more than 500 contacts of infected people in an attempt to stop the virus from spreading.
The scale of the previous outbreak forced several nations, including Russian Federation and China, to develop vaccines to Ebola.
Ebola, a hemorrhagic disease which is endemic to tropical regions of sub-Saharan Africa, was identified in the 1970s, but historically claimed a relatively small number of lives, despite its mortality rates reaching as high as 50 percent, as its spread between isolated villages and towns was limited. On Wednesday, the World Health Organization delivered 4,000 injections of an experimental vaccine with proven efficacy in recent trials, with more batches expected soon. The virus initially is transmitted to people from wild animals, including bats and monkeys.
He said the disease could have been taken there by people who attended the funeral of an Ebola victim in Bikoro, the south of Mbandaka, before travelling to the city.
Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and internal and external bleeding.