Congo faces high risk of ebola outbreak in city of 1.5 million

Congo faces high risk of ebola outbreak in city of 1.5 million

Congo faces high risk of ebola outbreak in city of 1.5 million

Emergency meeting called as Ebola spreads to Congolese city - United Nations health agency The World Health Organization (WHO) is convening an emergency meeting on Friday to "consider the worldwide risks" of the latest outbreak of the deadly disease Ebola, which has now moved to an urban area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). To tackle the epidemic and limit as much as possible the risk of it spreading, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is stepping up its response in the affected areas - Mbandaka and Bikoro.

A total of 44 cases of hemorrhagic fever have now been reported, including 23 deaths, according to the health ministry.

Cases emerged in a rural area with one now confirmed in the city of Mbandaka. A newly confirmed case in a densely populated part of the country will complicate attempts to control the outbreak, the statement said. "WHO and our partners are taking decisive action to stop further spread of the virus". The WHO said it is deploying about 30 more experts to the city.

Dr Peter Salama, WHO's deputy director-general of emergency preparedness and response, said the confirmed urban case of Ebola "is a major, major game-changer in the outbreak". Before Thursday, cases had been confirmed only in Bikoro, a small town whose health clinic has "limited functionality", according to the WHO.

The WHO and the worldwide group, Doctors Without Borders, are sending emergency response teams to contain the highly contagious disease.

More than 110 Red Cross volunteers in Bikoro and Mbandaka are working to alert surrounding communities and disinfect houses where cases have been suspected.

The central African country has previously had several Ebola outbreaks.

The risk to countries in the region was now "high", raised from "moderate", but the global risk remained "low", the World Health Organization said.

While there is no specific treatment for the deadly disease, which has a 90 percent fatality rate, World Health Organization has shipped thousands of doses of an experimental vaccine to the region. The last major outbreaks have affected people across West Africa between 2014 and 2016. More than 4,000 doses have arrived in Congo this week, with more on the way, and vaccinations are expected to start next week. On average, about 50% of people who become ill with Ebola die.

Ebola is endemic in Congo, and this is the ninth outbreak of the disease there since the 1970s.

"As more evidence comes in of the separation of cases in space and time, and healthcare workers getting infected, and people attending funerals and then traveling quite big distances - it's got everything we would worry about", he told Reuters. It is often transmitted to humans through the consumption of contaminated meat, but it can also be acquired through any kind of close contact with an infected animal.

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