Congo Ebola Risk to Public Now "Very High", Doctors Raise Alarm

Congo's Ebola risk 'very high' as confirmed virus cases rise

So far, 23 people have reportedly died and until Thursday, there were more than 40 suspected or confirmed cases.

GENEVA-Democratic Republic of Congo faces a "very high" public health risk from Ebola because the disease has been confirmed in a patient in a big city, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday, raising its assessment from "high" previously.

The Ebola outbreak in the DRC has entered a "new phase" after it spread to a large city, Health Minister Oly Ilunga said on Wednesday.

"The confirmed case in Mbandaka, a large urban centre located on major national and worldwide river, road and domestic air routes increases the risk of spread within the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to neighbouring countries", the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.

The meeting of the Emergency Committee would decide whether to declare an official public health emergency, which would trigger more global involvement and free up more resources to deal with the outbreak.

The latest confirmed case was in Mbandaka, the provincial capital of 1.2 million people, the DRC's Ministry of Health said.

The spread of the virus from rural areas into a city has raised fears it could quickly spread and become harder to control.

"There is absolutely no reason why this current outbreak should grow any further", said Dr Kamalini Lokuge, the head of the Australian National University's Humanitarian Research Program.

BBC graphic
WHO says Ebola poses a 'very high' risk to the Congo public

Senior WHO official Peter Salama said the spread to Mbandaka meant there was the potential for an "explosive increase" in cases.

Ebola is an infectious illness that causes internal bleeding and often proves fatal.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti said Ebola spreading into an urban area is concerning and WHO along with its partners is working forward to find the voluntary contacts of confirmed Ebola cases in the Mbandaka region.

But WHO advised against any restriction of travel and trade to the Democratic Republic of the Congo based on the now available information.

A total of 44 cases of Ebola have been reported in Congo in this outbreak: three confirmed, 20 probable and 21 suspected, according to WHO.

He said the disease could have been taken there by people who attended the funeral of an Ebola victim in Bikoro, south of Mbandaka, before travelling to the city.

However, it needs to be stored at a temperature of between -60 and -80 C, which is a challenge in DR Congo because electricity supplies are unreliable.

Ebola can be introduced into the human population through contact with the blood, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals.

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