Congo says Ebola cases have reached 30
Congo's Ministry of Health said Thursday the number of confirmed Ebola cases has reached 30, including eight deaths in the three affected health zones in the country's Equateur province.
The ministry gave the toll after surveillance teams in the capital, Kinshasa, were deployed along the Congo River to monitor people coming in there.
Health brigades have also been set up at various entry points to Kinshasa and other cities as part of prevention, said the World Health Organization's Congo representative Allarangar Yakouide.
"We want to ensure that ports and airports are effectively protected," he said.
A wave of panic hit Kinshasa on Wednesday, after rumours of an Ebola case admitted to the Kinshasa General Hospital. But Yakouide quickly denied it, saying that no cases are confirmed in the capital. He warned against spreading false reports which "could create panic and undermine the effectiveness of the response to the Ebola outbreak."
As of Thursday, Congo's health ministry reports a total of 58 cases of hemorrhagic fever: 30 confirmed Ebola cases, 14 probable and 14 suspected. It said that it was unable to confirm if a death in Bikoro was Ebola after the local residents refused to allow officials to take blood samples.
'If it reaches your neighbour, it can also reach you'
Border health officers monitored passengers arriving at Ngobila Beach in Kinshasa, which serves as the crossing from Brazzaville, Republic of Congo into Congo. Health workers on Wednesday began registering passengers arriving, and took their temperatures.
"We ask all those who work in different services here at the beach, even state agents all must be behind the Health Department … if it [Ebola] reaches your neighbour, it can also reach you," said Alphose Buka, a state official working at the beach.
Health workers detained a woman who did not have a vaccination card.
Antho Buka, who sells meat and fish at the Wahi market at a port in Kinshasa said she was surprised residents in Kinshasa are worried about Ebola, since it is in the northwest Equateur Province.
"Our relatives in Mbandaka have informed us that Ebola is in Bikoro, but here in Kinshasa, we do not have recorded cases, not even."
Georgette Boluka also said that with all the teams going into Bikoro and the Equateur Province to fight Ebola, she hopes it will not spread.
"From radios and televisions, we know that the so-called Ebola is out in a village, in Bikoro … that is the epicenter and we know that doctors have been sent there," she said, adding that she is reassured that victims will be properly quarantined.
However, two infected patients who fled from an Ebola treatment centre in Mbandaka, a Congo city of 1.2 million people, later died, Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) said Wednesday.
Emergency co-ordinator for MSF, Henry Gray, said that "forced hospitalization is not the solution to this epidemic," and more community engagement is needed to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.
This is Congo's ninth Ebola outbreak since 1976, when the disease was first identified. The virus is initially transmitted to people from wild animals, including bats and monkeys. It is spread via contact with the bodily fluids of those infected, including the dead.
Patients fled to prayer meeting
Dr. Peter Salama, WHO emergencies chief warned Wednesday that "The next few weeks will really tell if this outbreak is going to expand to urban areas or if we're going to be able to keep it under control."
He said experts are following three separate chains of transmission:
Two Ebola patients who fled a Congo hospital went to a prayer meeting with 50 other people, potentially exposing them all to the deadly virus, a senior aid worker said on Thursday.
Both patients were vomiting and infectious and died hours after the prayer session in the port city of Mbandaka, Dr. Jean-Clement Cabrol, emergency medical coordinator for Doctors Without Borders, said.
The two patients slipped out of an isolation ward at the hospital on Monday night.
"The escape was organized by the families, with six motorcycles as the patients were very ill and couldn't walk," Cabrol told a news briefing in Geneva on return from the affected region.
"They were taken to a prayer room with 50 people to pray. They were found at two in the morning, one of them dead and one was dying. So that's 50-60 contacts right there. The patients were in the active phase of the disease, vomiting."
WHO said it is also accelerating efforts with nine countries neighbouring Congo to try to prevent the Ebola outbreak from spreading to them.
WHO began vaccinations this week and is using a "ring vaccination" approach, targeting the contacts of people infected or suspected of infection and then the contacts of those people. More than 600 contacts have been identified, WHO said.
There is no specific treatment for Ebola. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and at times internal and external bleeding.