Sunday December 15, 2019

WHO: Ebola Epidemic in Congo a Public Health Emergency of International Concern

WHO said that since the Ebola epidemic was declared last Aug. 1, there have been more than 2,500 cases, including nearly 1,670 deaths

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A Congolese health worker administers ebola vaccine to a child at the Himbi Health Center in Goma, July 17, 2019. VOA

The World Health Organization on Wednesday declared the Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s conflict-ridden North Kivu and Ituri provinces a public health emergency of international concern.

The declaration by an emergency committee at WHO headquarters in Geneva elevated the disease and the efforts needed to combat it to a significantly higher level of concern. Nevertheless, committee chairman Robert Steffen cautioned against overreacting to the meaning of the decision.

“This is still a regional emergency and by no way a global threat,” he said. “And, why this change of opinion … there is concern about the spread of Ebola from Goma, a gateway, even though so far no cases were newly infected in the city.”

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FILE – Mwamini Kahindo, an Ebola survivor working as a caregiver to babies who are confirmed Ebola cases, holds an infant outside the red zone at the Ebola treatment center in Butembo, DRC, March 25, 2019. VOA

On Sunday, the first case of Ebola was discovered in Goma, a city of 2 million.  The pastor infected with the virus later died.  Steffen said the recurrence of intense transmission in Beni, an earlier epicenter of the disease, and the recent killings of two Ebola health workers were among other factors that fed into the committee’s decision.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus acknowledged that the risk that the disease could spread in the DRC was very high but said that the risk of spread outside the region remained low.

No curbs on travel, trade advised

Although the committee declared Ebola to be a global health emergency, Tedros said WHO did not recommend any restrictions on travel or trade.

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A man receives a vaccine against Ebola from a nurse outside the Afia Himbi Health Center on July 15, 2019 in Goma. VOA

Such restrictions “can actually hamper the fight,” he said. “Closing borders could have disastrous consequences for the lives and livelihoods of the people who cross the border every day for trade, education or to visit relatives.”

ALSO READ: Children Under Five at Higher Risk of Ebola Outbreak; Represent One-third of Current Total Cases

WHO said that since the Ebola epidemic was declared last Aug. 1, there have been more than 2,500 cases, including nearly 1,670 deaths. This is the 10th outbreak of the disease over the last four decades in the DRC. It is the second-largest outbreak after the 2014 historic epidemic in West Africa that killed more than 11,300 people.

WHO said insecurity due to conflict in North Kivu and Ituri provinces and tepid international financial support were the main impediments to stopping the Ebola virus. (VOA)

Next Story

Florida Becomes Latest Place to Declare Public Health Emergency Over Hepatitis A

Florida had 65 new cases in the past two weeks alone, bringing the total to 2,034, state officials said

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hepatitis A
FILE - Mexican Health Ministry representatives give migrants free shots for the flu, hepatitis B, tetanus, and preventible children's diseases at the Barretal shelter for migrants in Tijuana, Mexico, Dec. 6, 2018. VOA

Officials have declared a public health emergency over the rising number of hepatitis A cases in Florida, the latest part of the country dealing with outbreaks of the liver disease. Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees declared an emergency Thursday to allow the state to spend more on testing and treatment, saying Florida has had more than 2,000 cases since the beginning of the year compared with 548 all of last year. Most have been in central Florida, and health officials are still investigating the sources.

“We urge vaccination and stress the importance of washing your hands regularly,” Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez said in a tweet. Philadelphia also declared an emergency Thursday, and Mississippi officials announced an outbreak in their state earlier in the week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Kentucky has had 4,793 cases since an outbreak there in 2017; since 2018, Ohio has had 3,220 and West Virginia 2,528.

Hepatitis A is a virus that infects the liver and is spread through food, water and objects tainted by feces, or through close contact. Its flulike symptoms, if they occur, usually last about two months. It had been considered a disease that was fading away, thanks in part to vaccines available since 1995. As recently as 2015, fewer than 1,400 cases were reported nationwide.

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Florida had 65 new cases in the past two weeks alone, bringing the total to 2,034, state officials said. Pixabay

But three years ago, a wave of outbreaks among homeless people and illicit drug users began appearing in the U.S. More than two dozen states have reported such outbreaks since then, with more than 22,500 cases, including 221 deaths. Vaccines have typically been administered to children, but many of the new cases have been in adults.

ALSO READ: US Drug Overdose Deaths More Common in Cities than Rural Areas

Florida had 65 new cases in the past two weeks alone, bringing the total to 2,034, state officials said. That compares with 548 last year and 276 cases in 2017. Dr. Eugene Schiff, director for liver diseases at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and former epidemic intelligence service officer for CDC, told The Associated Press that the disease is likely spreading in Florida among homeless and unvaccinated people. He said intravenous drug users, men who have sex with men and the homeless are at a higher risk for the illness.

“Homelessness is a big issue throughout the country and in Florida, and they are at higher risk to spread hepatitis A around,” Dr. Schiff said. “It is more epidemic in the homeless community.” But he noted that the vaccine protects people against the disease: “This is entirely preventable. It is not that this is a virulent strain, there is just a larger risk if people haven’t been vaccinated.” (VOA)