The World Health Organization is preparing for the worst case scenario in an Ebola outbreak in a remote area of Congo, including spread to a major town, WHO Deputy Director-General of Emergency Preparedness and Response Peter Salama said on Friday.
He told a regular U.N. briefing in Geneva that he hoped the Democratic Republic of Congo would give the green light within days for the deployment of an experimental vaccine, but warned that the drug was complicated to use and was not a magic bullet.
On Thursday, the DRC government announced the first confirmed death in this latest outbreak of the deadly virus and also said 11 other people were now confirmed to be infected, including three medical staff.
“One of the defining features of this epidemic is the fact that three health professionals have been affected,” Health Minister Oly Ilunga said in a statement.
Most of the cases so far have been recorded around the village of Ikoko Impenge, near the northwestern town of Bikoro.
“After contact, the nurses began showing signs … We have isolated them,” Serge Ngaleto, the director of Bikoro’s main hospital, told Reuters by phone.
This is the ninth time Ebola has been recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo since the disease made its first known appearance, near the vast central African country’s northern Ebola river, in the 1970s.
DRC’s neighbours on high alert
Salama said the WHO had alerted the nine neighbouring countries but currently regarded the risk of regional spread as “moderate”.
Ikoko Impenge and Bikoro are situated not far from the banks of the Congo River, a major artery for trade and transport upstream from the capital Kinshasa. The Congo Republic is just on the other side of the river.
Officials in Kenya, Nigeria, Guinea and Gambia have heightened screening measures of travellers at airports and other points of entry to prevent spread of Ebola.
A spokesman for the director of epidemiology in Congo Republic said government experts would meet on Thursday to discuss measures to prevent it crossing the border.
Ebola is most feared for the internal and external bleeding it can cause in its victims owing to damage done to blood vessels.