New Ebola Case Detected in Democratic Republic Of Congo, Months After End Of Last Outbreak
Ebola vaccination campaign in Mbandaka, Équateur Province (DRC) during an outbreak over the summer.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) recorded its first case of Ebola on Sunday in Butembo – a city that was one of the epicenters of the last Ebola outbreak – since its last outbreak ended in June 2020. 

A woman with Ebola-like symptoms was detected in Butembo, a city in North Kivu Province, after seeking treatment at a health center on 1 February. She died in the hospital two days later, reported the Ministry of Health of the DRC. 

The patient was married to a man who had contracted Ebola during the previous outbreak. 

“The provincial response team is already hard at work. It will be supported by the national response team which will visit Butembo shortly,” the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

This new case comes nearly eight months after the country’s 10th Ebola outbreak, which ended after two years with a total of 3481 cases, 2299 deaths and 1162 survivors reported. Local and national authorities, along with the WHO, are investigating the case, contact tracing, and disinfecting sites visited by the patient.

During the previous outbreak, WHO trained laboratory technicians, contact tracers, and vaccination teams, leaving behind a strong local and provincial health system with the capacity to mobilize and lead the current response.

“The expertise and capacity of local health teams has been critical in detecting this new Ebola case and paving the way for a timely response,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, in a press release. “WHO is providing support to local and national health authorities to quickly trace, identify and treat the contacts to curtail the further spread of the virus.”

Samples from the patient have been sent to the National Institute of Biomedical Research to sequence the genome, identify the strain of the Ebola virus and establish its link to the previous outbreak. 

“It is not unusual for sporadic cases to occur following a major outbreak,” said WHO in a statement, however it is unclear if this is evidence of a flare up or a new outbreak.

“While there is hope that this early identification of an infection may help with quickly containing this outbreak, back-to-back Ebola outbreaks and Covid-19 has stretched Congo’s health systems to the limit and this could put far greater strain on an already exasperated system,” Jason Kindrachuk, assistant professor at the department of medical microbiology and infectious diseases at Canada’s University of Manitoba, told the Guardian

More than 70 contacts have been traced by local health authorities, the Ministry of Health, and WHO epidemiologists on the ground in an effort to detect, contain and treat any other cases.

“So far, no other cases have been identified, but it is possible there will be further cases because the woman had contact with many people after she became symptomatic,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, at a press briefing on Monday. 

Ebola vaccines are being sent to the area and a vaccination program will begin shortly, supported by a rapid response team sent by WHO. 

Image Credits: WHO/Junior D. Kannah.

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