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New Ebola Outbreak in Congo

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This undated colorized transmission of an electron micrograph file image made available by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows an Ebola virus virion. Health authorities are investigating suspected cases of Ebola in a remote northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. VOA

May 14, 2017: The World Health Organization says the Democratic Republic of the Congo is again facing an outbreak of the contagious and deadly Ebola virus.

Congolese Health Minister Oly Ilunga announced Saturday that three people had died of the virus in the northeast of the country.

Ilunga urged people not to panic and said officials had taken all necessary measures to respond to the outbreak.

The World Health Organization said it was working with Congolese authorities to deploy health workers in the remote area where the three deaths occurred, all on April 22. Eleven other cases are suspected in the area.

WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, went to the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, on Friday to discuss disease response.

The remoteness of the affected area, 1,300 kilometres from Kinshasa, means word of the outbreak was slow to emerge. WHO said specialist teams were expected to arrive in the area, known as the Likati health zone, within the next day or two.

This was the first outbreak of the virus in DRC since 2014 when 49 people died of Ebola.

Larger outbreak

Experts say the 2014 DRC outbreak was not linked to a much larger outbreak that killed 11,000 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, beginning in 2013. They say active virus transmission for that outbreak was halted last year.

In December 2016, The Lancet, a medical journal, published results of a WHO-led trial showing that the world’s first Ebola vaccine provides substantial protection against the virus. Among more than 11,000 people who were vaccinated in the trial, no cases of Ebola virus disease occurred.

Reports say the vaccine is now awaiting formal licensing clearance.

Ebola, named after the Congolese river near where it was first identified in 1976, begins with a sudden fever, aching muscles, diarrhoea and vomiting. It is a hemorrhagic fever, marked by spontaneous bleeding from internal organs and, in most cases, death. It can be transmitted by close contact with infected animals or people, usually through blood or other bodily fluids.

People can contract the virus through direct contact with victims’ bodies at funerals. Caretakers, nurses and doctors treating Ebola patients also are at high risk. VOA

Next Story

Researchers in Uganda Launch Ebola Vaccine Trial for Two Years

The new vaccine is manufactured by U.S.-based Janssen and Janssen company

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FILE - A Ugandan health worker prepares to administer the Ebola vaccine to a man in Kirembo village, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Kasese district, Uganda, June 16, 2019. VOA

Eight hundred health workers involved in the fight against the Ebola virus are receiving doses of a two-part vaccine. Researchers who launched a trial this week for a new Ebola vaccine say the new vaccine trial will take two years to complete.

Dr. Juliet Mwanga, director of the Mbarara Research Center, said the vaccine combines antigen — a substance that induces an immune response in the body — from the Ebola virus, a common adenovirus, and the vaccinia Ankara vaccine. The new vaccine is manufactured by U.S.-based Janssen and Janssen company.

“This J and J vaccine aims at prevention — primary prevention before you have contact at all,” said Mwanga. “And the other difference, as I said, it has two parts. So, you’re given the first dose, and 56 days later, you get another dose, which boosts your immunity. So, hopefully it works for a longer time.”

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Deo Bakulu has been washing his hands every chance he gets since Ebola reached eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s main city of Goma. VOA

Currently, Uganda is using an Ebola vaccine by the Merck pharmaceutical company, but Mwanga said they need to try out new vaccines, too. Uganda’s move is motivated by its proximity to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where more than 1,800 people have died from an Ebola outbreak that began a year ago.

ALSO READ: Medicare Uses Breakthrough Gene Therapy to Cover Some Blood Cancers

Dr. Kimton Opio, the coordinator of the trial, said the vaccine is being tested on 800 health care workers and front-line support workers who meet a few basic requirements. “Someone has to be 18 years and over,” he said. ” Then, of course, they have to be able to sign the  [consent] form. Then they must not have been vaccinated with Ebola before, or they must have not suffered from Ebola before.”

The researchers are hopeful the vaccine, if effective, will help Uganda and neighboring countries that have endured Ebola outbreaks. Uganda has seen no new cases of Ebola in recent weeks. But, health officials have been on high alert since June, when two adults and a five-year-old boy who had crossed into Uganda from the DRC died of the virus. (VOA)