A new experimental vaccine will reach the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) within the week to fight the country’s Ebola outbreak, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson in Geneva on Tuesday.
As of May 14, the WHO estimated that a total of 41 confirmed and suspected Ebola cases have occurred in the DRC in more than one month, resulting in 18 deaths.
The experimental vaccine will be used in northwest DRC’s Bikoro town where the virus broke out.
“This is not a general vaccination. This is really a targeted vaccination for those who are identified as being at risk. This includes obviously health workers and first responders. When it comes to the vaccine, WHO is working with the Ministry of Health, CABI (Center for Agriculture and Biosciences International), MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres) and other partners to conduct vaccinations of high risk populations in the affected health zones as early as possible,” said WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic, speaking during a UN weekly press briefing.
The collection and testing of virus samples, as well as the work of tracing people who have come in contact with the virus, are underway. Moreover, the WHO has deployed experts to coordinate with partner agencies to provide life-saving medical services. However, transportation and the local climate are making the prevention and control of the epidemic difficult.
“There is such a risk that the epidemic is spreading rapidly. We need to study the epidemicity of the virus. The first thing to do is to figure out which people are infected, to identify suspected cases, and confirm who has come in contact with infected people,” said Jasarevic.
The latest outbreak is DRC’s ninth known outbreak of Ebola since 1976.
Ebola is one of the most deadly infectious viruses to date, with an average mortality rate of about 50%.
The virus is passed on to humans through wildlife, which in turn triggers human-to-human transmission. Mass outbreaks in countries including Guinea and Liberia at the end of 2013 caused the deaths of over 10 000 people.