Congo’s Ebola outbreak still spreading, with possible signs of hope

Congo's Ebola outbreak is still spreading. However, control measures seem to be working, WHO said.

The ongoing outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo is at “a key juncture,” the World Health Organization said Friday.

Since the outbreak was declared August 1, 116 people have been infected, including 77 deaths. As of Wednesday, 86 of the cases were confirmed by lab results, and 30 were probable.

Cases of Ebola are being reported in five health zones in North Kivu province and one health zone in Ituri, both in the northeastern part of the country. This area borders Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan, where security concerns and an ongoing humanitarian crisis factor into the ability to contain the outbreak.

However, control measures seem to be working, WHO said.

Patients are getting to treatment centers quickly, and most are getting help within an hour of diagnosis. With this highly infectious disease transmitted from person to person through bodily fluids like saliva, blood, breast milk and feces, patient care is key to reducing the infection rate.

Health care workers have been following up immediately with people who may have come into contact with Ebola patients, to make sure they are not infected, WHO said. Ring vaccination efforts have also been quickly scaled up, reaching people who may have come into contact with those patients.

That’s the good news, but there are still new cases and concerns among health workers over containing the virus.

“The outbreak trend must be interpreted with caution,” WHO said.

Over the past week, 13 additional confirmed or probable cases were reported, mostly in the city of Beni. WHO is concerned that those numbers could grow, as people are still involved in “risky behavior” that could spread Ebola. There are still unsafe burial practices, a reluctance to communicate with health care workers trying to trace the disease, and a resistance to seeking help from health care workers, in addition to general problems with infection prevention and control.

Also a concern: The number of health care workers infected is now 15, including one death. WHO believes that these infected workers were probably exposed to Ebola in health facilities that are not specifically set up as treatment centers.

This is the 10th Ebola outbreak in Congo, where the virus is endemic, since it was discovered in 1976.

WHO is working with local health care workers on disease control, and together, they are raising awareness about how to handle patients with Ebola and vaccinate people who are most at risk.

On Monday, WHO reported that two of the first 16 people who got an experimental treatment for Ebola during this outbreak have recovered. Five experimental Ebola therapies have been approved to treat those who are sick.