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In Congo outbreak, Ebola vaccine faces reality tests

18 May 2018

There had been 25 deaths, but no new infections among healthworkers, Jasarevic told reporters. A newly confirmed case in a densely populated part of the country will complicate attempts to control the outbreak, the statement said.

The city of about one million people is a transport hub on the Congo River, prompting fears that the virus could now spread further, threatening the capital Kinshasa and surrounding countries.

Mr Salama, the WHO's deputy director-general for emergency response, said Mbandaka's location on the Congo river raised the prospect of Ebola spreading to Congo-Brazzaville and the Central African Republic, as well as downstream to Kinshasa, which has a population of 10 million.

"We are entering a new phase of the Ebola outbreak that is now affecting three health zones, including an urban health zone", Ilunga said, adding he was anxious because Mbandaka is densely populated and at the crossroads of Equateur province.

"This is a major, major game-changer in the outbreak", Dr. Peter Salama, WHO's emergency response chief, warned on Thursday after the first urban case was announced.

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The EU funding announced today will ensure deployment of relevant surge capacity to the affected areas, surveillance and contact tracing of Ebola victims as well as active case finding for early detection of those infected.

The Department of Health first reported the outbreak, the ninth the country has faced in the past four decades, on May 8.

Confirmed cases of Ebola had previously been limited to a remote area more than 160km south of Mbandaka, in the rainforest of Congo's Equateur province.

The risk to countries in the region was now "high", raised from "moderate", but the global risk remained "low", the World Health Organization said. On Wednesday, the World Health Organization delivered 4,000 injections of an experimental vaccine with proven efficacy in recent trials, and more batches are expected soon.

Front-line health workers, people who have been in contact with those infected and contacts of those contacts will receive the Ebola vaccine, according to the WHO.

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The 2014-16 West Africa outbreak became particularly deadly when it spread to the capitals of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. More than 4,000 doses have arrived in Congo this week, with more on the way, and vaccinations are expected to start next week.

A total of 44 confirmed, probable or suspected cases of Ebola have been reported since the outbreak was detected, including 23 deaths.

There is no specific treatment for Ebola, which is spread through the bodily fluids of people exhibiting symptoms or those who have died from the disease.

Ebola is notoriously hard to contain, though recent outbreaks in Congo have been managed swiftly by the government and global health institutions.

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In Congo outbreak, Ebola vaccine faces reality tests