The Ebola outbreak in Congo has spread from the countryside into the city, prompting fears that the disease will be increasingly difficult to control.
Congo’s health minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga confirmed a case in Mbandaka, a city of a million people about 130km (80 miles) from the area where the first cases were confirmed earlier this month.
The city is a major transportation hub with routes to the capital Kinshasa.
Forty-two people have now been infected and 23 people are known to have died.
The Ebola virus is a serious infectious illness that causes internal bleeding and often proves fatal. It can spread rapidly through contact with small amounts of bodily fluid and its early flu-like symptoms are not always obvious.
Why the spread to a city is dangerous…
The 2014-16 West Africa outbreak, which killed 11,300 people, was particularly deadly because it spread to the capital cities of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.
Senior World Health Organization (WHO) official Peter Salama said the spread to Mbandaka meant there was the potential for an “explosive increase” in cases.
“This is a major development in the outbreak,” he said. “We have urban Ebola, which is a very different animal from rural Ebola. The potential for an explosive increase in cases is now there.”
Mr. Salama, the WHO’s Deputy Director-General of Emergency Preparedness and Response, said Mbandaka’s location on the Congo river, widely used for transportation, raised the prospect of Ebola spreading to surrounding countries such as Congo-Brazzaville and the Central African Republic as well as downstream to Kinshasa, a city of 10 million people.
“This puts a whole different lens on this outbreak and gives us increased urgency to move very quickly into Mbandaka to stop this new first sign of transmission,” he said.
Why does Ebola keep coming back?
There have been three outbreaks in DR Congo since the 2014-16 epidemic. Ebola is thought to be spread over long distances by fruit bats and is often transmitted to humans via contaminated bushmeat.
It can also be introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals. These can include chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, antelope, and porcupines.
The disease is endemic to the area and it is not possible to eradicate all the animals who might be a host for Ebola. As long as humans come in contact with them, there is always a possibility that Ebola could return.
With agency report