KINSHASA – News of another case of Ebola infection, this time in an urban area, on Thursday caused widespread apprehension among citizens of the Democratic Republic of the Congo after the country’s health ministry confirmed that a positive test result for the deadly virus had been obtained in the African nation’s northwest.
The DRC’s health minister, Oly Ilunga Kalenga, had said in a statement released late Wednesday that a person had tested positive for Ebola in the city of Mbandaka, located next to the border with the neighboring Republic of the Congo (Brazzaville) on the banks of the mighty river that gives both countries their names.
“We are entering a new phase of the Ebola outbreak that is now affecting three health zones, including an urban health zone,” Kalenga said. “Since the announcement of the alert in Mbandaka, our epidemiologists are working in the field to identify people who have been in contact with suspected cases.”
The World Health Organization has sent a first batch of more than 5,000 experimental vaccines to the DRC’s capital, Kinshasha, to help tackle the new outbreak.
According to the health ministry, the antigens were scheduled to be used next week for the first time since their development two years ago by Merck and Co.
Mbandaka, capital of the northwestern Equateur province, has a population of about 350,000 and is a major thoroughfare for transport and trade along the Congo River.
Kalenga said that authorities were intensifying the tracing of population movements along all air, river and road routes out of the city.
According to WHO figures, there have been as many as 44 possible cases of Ebola infections so far in this latest outbreak in the DRC: three have been confirmed by lab tests, 20 are classified as likely and 21 as suspected cases.
This was the ninth Ebola outbreak in the African country since the virus was first discovered there in 1976, when it was still called Zaire.
The disease, which is transmitted through direct contact with blood or bodily fluids belonging to infected people or animals, is widely feared for its destructive internal and external bleeding due to the virus causing severe damage to blood vessels.
It can reach a mortality rate of up to 90 percent.
Early symptoms include a sudden high fever, intense weakness and muscle pain, headaches and a sore throat, as well as vomiting.
The worst Ebola epidemic to date ravaged several West African nations in 2014, after it broke out in Dec. 2013 in Guinea-Conakry and expanded into Sierra Leone and Liberia, with minor outbreaks occurring elsewhere.
It left a death toll of over 11,300 and caused general alarm throughout the world before subsiding in 2015-16.