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New Ebola Outbreak in Congo

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

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Patients who Survive Ebola often Continue to Face Numerous Health Problems: Study

They have to face numerous health problems

Laboratory technician Mohamed SK Sesay, who survived Ebola but saw many of his colleagues die and now has joint and muscle pains and loss of sight, holds the child of one of his work colleagues who died of the disease, in Kenema, Sierra Leone
Laboratory technician Mohamed SK Sesay, who survived Ebola but saw many of his colleagues die and now has joint and muscle pains and loss of sight, holds the child of one of his work colleagues who died of the disease, in Kenema, Sierra Leone. VOA
  • Approximately 11,000 people died in the Ebola outbreak that hit West Africa from 2014 to 2016
  • Many battled vision problems and headaches that lasted for months
  • They show some quite distinct scarring patterns

Sierra Leone, West Africa, August 25, 2017: Patients who survive infection with the Ebola virus often continue to face numerous health problems. New research finds 80 percent of Ebola survivors suffer disabilities one year after being discharged from the hospital.

Approximately 11,000 people died in the Ebola outbreak that hit West Africa from 2014 to 2016; tens of thousands more who were infected survived.

Of those survivors, many battled vision problems and headaches that lasted for months.

Researchers at the University of Liverpool, the UK and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, UK are studying what’s called post-Ebola syndrome. One of the senior authors of the study, Dr. Janet Scott, says researchers are unsure why survivors experience such disabilities.

“I’m not sure we’ve quite gotten to the bottom of it yet,” Scott said. “The idea that you go through something as horrific as Ebola and just walk away from that unscathed was always a bit of a vain hope. So, it could be the inflammatory response. It could be damage to the muscles, and it could be the persistence of the virus in some cases. It could be all of those things.”

Scott says problems found in Ebola survivors’ eyes may provide clues to what is happening elsewhere in the body.

“They show some quite distinct scarring patterns,” she said. “There’s definitely scar tissue there. We can see it in the eyes. We can’t see it in the rest of the body, but I’m sure it’s in the rest of the body because the patients are coming in with this huge range of problems.”

The disabilities were reported in past cases of  Ebola outbreak, as well. However, because past outbreaks were smaller and there were few survivors, researchers were not able to do major, long-term studies on the after effects.

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This time, said Scott, “There are 5,000 survivors or thereabouts in Sierra Leone, and more in Guinea and Liberia. So, it’s an opportunity from a research point of view to find out the full spectrum of sequelae … the things that happen after an acute illness.”

Military Hospital 34 in Freetown, Sierra Leone, also took part in the study, helping to recruit 27 Ebola survivors and 54 close contacts who were not infected. About 80 percent of survivors reported disabilities compared to 11 percent of close contacts.

“The problems we’re seeing in Ebola survivors, this is not due just to the tough life in Sierra Leone. This is more than likely down to their experience in Ebola,” Scott said.

The research was led by Dr. Soushieta Jagadesh, who said: “a year following acute disease, survivors of West Africa Ebola Virus Disease continue to have a higher chance of disability in mobility, cognition, and vision.”

“Issues such as anxiety and depression persist in survivors and must not be neglected,” she added.

Scott hopes the findings can be used to provide better care in the event of another Ebola outbreak, no matter where it is. In the West Africa outbreak, the first goal was to contain the epidemic, followed by reducing the death rate.

“If I was treating an Ebola patient again, it has to be more than just surviving,” Scott said. “You have to try to make people survive well. Surviving with half your body paralyzed or with your vision impaired and being unable to care for your family or earn a living isn’t really enough. So, what I would like to do is to focus on that aspect to make people survive better and survive well.” (VOA)