Ebola hemorrhagic fever is a highly contagious disease. Patients present with high fever, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, and, in some cases, external or internal bleeding. Case fatality rates have ranged from 50 to 90 percent. Typically, by the end of the second week of illness, patients succumb to multiple organ failure. No vaccine or treatment exists for this infection. But rapid recognition of an outbreak and early response can reduce the number of new cases in communities and in hospitals where patients seek care.
On the morning of December 28, a woman with symptoms of what could be Ebola hemorrhagic fever died in Western Kasai Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo. On December 25, a man with similar symptoms died. These two bring the total number of deaths to 11 in what are 35 suspected cases of Ebola in the area.
Currently, three patients are being cared for in a six-bed isolation unit built by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Kaluamba village, Western Kasai. Two other patients are being followed at home in Kampungu village. In total, 102 people are thought to have been in contact with the disease and are being monitored by MSF teams. An isolation center with a 25-bed capacity has been prepared in Kampungu and will be used in case the disease spreads.
An MSF team of 15 are working in collaboration with the health authorities in the province. The team consists mainly of Ebola specialists. A psychologist will leave early this week from Brussels and will join the team in Kasai.
Rumors of suspected cases or deaths in the area seem to indicate fear and a certain level of confusion among the population and health staff around this disease. For the MSF team, part of the work is to go to various health zones to conduct investigations. The priority is still to better understand the epidemic so to better control it.
A team of health educators have sent out messages in French and in the local languages through radio stations and on posters, and in churches and schools. They also communicated through local leaders and community health workers.
MSF is also training health staff on epidemiological surveillance, infection-control measures, and social mobilization, as well as on medical care for patients.
MORE ON EBOLA
Dr. Armand Sprecher is an MSF physician specialized in hemorrhagic fevers like Ebola and Marburg. He advised MSF teams on how to respond to an outbreak of the disease in West Kasai, DRC, in September 2007. In this interview, he describes Ebola hemorrhagic fever and the measures that are taken to control the outbreak.
Listen to an interview with Dr. Armand Sprecher: