New DRC Ebola outbreak grows to nine cases, five deaths

June 3, 2020

Three more cases have been reported in a new Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC's) Equateur, and health officials have fleshed out more details about the cluster of cases. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the DRC had notified it of an outbreak in the northwestern part of the country involving six cases, four of them fatal. In an update, DRC officials reported nine cases, according to UNICEF, an increase of three. And one new death brings that total to five. 

The WHO's African regional office, in its weekly emergencies and outbreaks report, said that the new outbreak in Equateur province's Mbandaka health zone, where a small outbreak was reported in 2018, initially consisted of a cluster of four deaths that occurred between May 18 and 30. 

The index patient is a 27-year-old woman who died in a Wangata hospital on May 18. Three other people from her community died from an illness with similar symptoms in the following days. A swab specimen was collected from the last patient who died. Then on May 31, a health worker who treated the patients, along with his wife, became ill and were isolated at Wangata hospital. Samples from those three patients tested positive for Ebola on June 1 at the National Institute for Biomedical Research (INRB) in Kinshasa.

UNICEF said in a news release that one of the five patients who died is a 15-year-old girl. The agency added that, of the four survivors, all are contacts of the people who died, and one is a child of one of the fatal cases. All are in isolation and treatment at Wangata hospital. 

The group's DRC representative, Edouard Beigbeder, said UNICEF is working with the DRC government and other responders to provide equipment, deploy community mobilizers, provide water and sanitation services, and support orphaned children. 

"In the ongoing outbreak in Eastern DRC, more children, proportionately, are being affected than in any previous Ebola outbreak, so we must ensure that preventing infection among children is central to the response in Equateur," he said, adding that UNICEF will send 36 staff members to the area. 

The WHO said the new outbreak comes at a time when the large outbreak in the eastern part of the country is in the midst of its 42-day countdown until the event, underway since August 2018, is declared over. It said the new outbreak in Equateur province is a reminder that Ebola is present in animal reservoirs in the region, which poses an ongoing threat of reemergence in humans. 

The new outbreak is the DRC's 11th since 1976. In 2018, an 11-week outbreak in Equateur province sickened 54 people and led to 33 deaths. The VSV-EBOV vaccine was deployed, and the event was declared over on Jul 24, 2018. The outbreak in the eastern DRC started just one week later and has totaled 3,463 cases and 2,252 deaths.

CIDRAP has the report.