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Ebola in DRC: Nearing control of the outbreak, but vigilance still required
October 1, 2007
The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has seen a decrease in the number of admissions to its isolation unit in Kampungu, a village of 9,000 inhabitants which is the epicentre of the outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
"Two of the three patients admitted over the last week have tested positive for Ebola," says Dr Michel Van Herp, MSF epidemiologist. "We are close to controlling the Ebola outbreak. But we remain vigilant because the virus is still circulating in some of the neighbouring villages. And since the incubation period for Ebola can be up to three weeks there may still be infections in people around who have not yet developed any symptoms."
The three patients currently followed by MSF's medical team are the latest of 32 admissions since early September. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 384 suspected cases have been reported since the beginning of May, including 176 deaths. Out of 53 blood samples taken, 24 tested positive. Other diseases in this region of the central Congolese province of West Kasai include malaria, shigella, and typhoid fever.
Ebola hemorrhagic fever is an extremely contagious disease, for which there is no vaccine or cure. The Zaire-type of Ebola kills 70 to 90% of those infected. MSF's activities focus on isolating people infected with the virus, re-hydrating them, and easing their pain, which helps some patients recover. In order to contain the outbreak, it is also important to search for other cases and to trace those who have been in contact with people suspected of being infected.
"A reduction of the disease's transmission chain was made possible by these measures and by carrying out safe burial practices," adds Dr Van Herp. "Collaboration with a laboratory installed in Luebo, 16 km north of Kampungu, by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also makes diagnosis possible in 24 hours."
The first MSF team arrived on September 2. Currently, 17 international specialists and nearly fifty Congolese colleagues have set up two isolation units in Kampungu and in Luebo. MSF is working alongside the Congolese authorities, WHO, and other organizations.
In around twenty villages located within a radius of thirty kilometers around Kampungu, MSF visits health structures every day. The team has trained health staff and distributed medicines and protective material as the virus spreads easily through body fluids those caring for the sick are at extreme risk. In addition, 35 community workers have been trained to get information about prevention across to the population.
Some very isolated villages remain difficult to reach, such as Tchitala and Kalombayi, where suspected cases of Ebola have been recorded. MSF's logistics team and the community are rehabilitating bridges and trails in order to better facilitate transport for those in urgent of transport to the isolation units.