400 contacts being traced in Congo's Ebola outbreak



An unlicenced Ebola vaccine could soon be tested in a remote region of the Democratic Republic of Congo hit by an outbreak of the virus, the World Health Organisation said on Thursday.

"It's important to note that Likati Health Zone is one of the most remote parts of the DRC".

As in that test, the World Health Organization would like to do a ring-trial in DR Congo, meaning the vaccine would be given to all people who have had contact with known cases, as well as those who have had contact with them.

Peter Salama, MBBS, MPH, WHO executive director for the health emergencies program, joined by Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti, MD, WHO regional director for Africa, said, "We could potentially mount a campaign within a week if all of the conditions are met and personnel, financing, and logistics are in place".

The WHO meanwhile remains "optimistic" that Kinshasa can rapidly bring the outbreak under control, the agency's regional chief for Africa said during the conference call. A caregiver and the motorcycle driver who travelled with the first patient have also died, Salama said. On 15 May, there were 20 cases reported, two confirmed by laboratory test and 3 deaths.

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"However we can not underestimate the logistic and practical challenges associated with this response in a very remote, insecure part of the country", he said.

The Ebola virus is considered endemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where eight outbreaks, the largest involving about 300 patients, have been recorded since 1976. "But as of now, we do not know full extent of the outbreak".

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States is also sending a renowned Ebola expert, Dr. Pierre Rollin, to Congo, along with epidemiologists, a spokeswoman said. The most recent was in 2014, around the time more than 11,000 people died and some 28,000 cases were reported in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, mainly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

This week, the organization said that it is now making preparations to use the controversial vaccine, though it has not yet made a firm decision on whether to deploy it. "As you can imagine, in an area without telecommunications, without road access [and] without live-scale electrification, this is going to be an enormous challenge", said Salama.

Members of WHO-led "surge team" reached the area Wednesday, he said. That vaccine is not yet approved by any government authority but Salama said it could be used under compassionate use circumstances if the DRC government agrees.

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