I have to wonder how long health agencies and organizations will be able to keep ebola in Africa as Congo struggles with its largest ever outbreak:
The 329 confirmed and probable cases of Ebola infection reported so far have made it the largest outbreak in the nation’s history, with no signs yet of slowing down. Militia groups clashing in DRC’s North Kivu Province, the epicenter of the outbreak, have scrambled health workers’ attempts to trace the movements of people exposed to the virus. A massive effort to vaccinate more than 25,000 of the highest-risk people has slowed transmission rates but not yet stemmed the tide. Between October 31 and November 6, 29 new cases were reported in DRC, including three health workers.
Now neighboring Uganda is bracing for the virus to cross the 545-mile boundary it shares with DRC. The border is porous and heavily trafficked, with large numbers of local farmers, merchants, traders, and refugees constantly moving through the area. A checkpoint in the region receives 5,000 people on an average day, with the busiest ones swelling to 20,000 twice a week on market days.
On Wednesday, the country began immunizing frontline health workers with an experimental vaccine that produced good results in a previous outbreak. The Ugandan Health Ministry said it has 2,100 doses of the vaccine available for doctors and nurses working in five border districts. At hospitals in these districts, four special Ebola treatment units have also been constructed, with staff on standby to manage any suspected cases. “The risk of cross-border transmission was assessed to be very high at a national level,” said Ugandan Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng at a press conference last week. “Hence the need to protect our health workers.”
In every outbreak, some people catch the virus at a hospital or clinic. But only in the last few weeks have health workers realized the extent to which Ebola was spreading through Beni’s network of more than 300 healthcare facilities, many of which keep poor patient records. Even as workers vaccinated victims’ close friends and family, new cases would show up seemingly out of thin air. Last week the Washington Post reported that between 60 and 80 percent of new confirmed cases had no known epidemiological link to prior cases. Ryan says a huge push in the last few weeks to completely retrain case investigators has made a big impact to change that. “We’ve now linked 93 percent of new cases to known transmission chains,” he says. Surveillance teams have also begun using tablets to register contacts and vaccinations. By layering that information over the geographic locations of new cases coming in, they’re beginning to build models to understand where the virus is likely to spread next.