Health authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) declared a new Ebola outbreak on Friday, after a case was confirmed in the town of Mbandaka, in the northwestern province of Equateur, announced the World Health Organization (WHO) in a statement on Saturday.
It is the third outbreak in the province since 2018 and the 14th Ebola outbreak for the country since 1976, the WHO said.
“Time is not on our side,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “The disease has taken a two-week head start and we are now playing catch-up. The good news is that health authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have more experience than anyone else in the world in rapidly controlling Ebola outbreaks.
So far, only one case has been confirmed, the WHO said. The patient was a 31-year-old man, who began experiencing symptoms on April 5. He sought treatment at a local health facility after being sick for more than a week at home. The man was admitted to an Ebola treatment center on April 21 for intensive care but died later that day, the WHO said.
Health workers recognized the symptoms of Ebola and “immediately” submitted samples for testing, the WHO said. “Efforts to contain the current outbreak are already underway,” the organization said, and vaccinations will begin in the coming days.
“Many people in Mbandaka are already vaccinated against Ebola, which should help reduce the impact of the disease,” Moeti said. “All those vaccinated during the 2020 outbreak will be revaccinated.”
The deceased patient received “a safe and dignified burial, which includes modifying traditional burial ceremonies in a way that minimizes the risk of contagious fluids infecting attendees,” the WHO said. Anyone who had contact with the patient is being identified and will be monitored, and the health facility where the patient received treatment has been decontaminated, the organization added.
Previous outbreaks in Equateur province date back to 2020, when 130 cases were reported, and 2018, when 54 cases were recorded, the WHO said.
“Ebola is a serious, often fatal disease that affects humans and other primates,” the WHO added. Case fatality rates have ranged from 25% to 90% in past outbreaks, but effective treatment is available and if patients receive it early their chances of survival “improve dramatically”, he said.
The equatorial forests of the DRC have been a focus of the Ebola crisis in the central African country, with more than 2,000 people killed by the disease between 2018 and 2020.
The DRC has seen more Ebola outbreaks than any other country since the virus was first discovered near the Ebola River in the northern DRC region in 1976.