The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that an outbreak of the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) could soon spread to major towns and cities in the region. According to Reuters, the death toll in the current outbreak of the lethal hemorrhagic fever has doubled in the last week, rising to 31, including five health care workers.
Reuters quoted WHO spokesperson Eugene Kabambi, who said from Kinshasa, “The epidemic is not under control. On the contrary the situation is very, very serious. If nothing is done now, the disease will reach other places, and even major towns will be threatened.”
Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever (Ebola HF), for which there are no known treatments, kills 90 percent of its victims, often within days of the onset of symptoms. Earlier this month, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and WHO launched an effort to raise the estimated $2 million needed to fight and contain the epidemic in DCR. The money is being sought from private and government sources.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website, “The incubation period for Ebola HF ranges from 2 to 21 days. The onset of illness is abrupt and is characterized by fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, sore throat, and weakness, followed by diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. A rash, red eyes, hiccups and internal and external bleeding may be seen in some patients.”
The people most at risk for the disease or family members and health care workers who have had close contact with the patient. The virus is spread through the patient’s blood and other bodily fluids as the patient coughs and bleeds out in the disease’s final stages.
So far, Reuters reports, the outbreak is confined to “the towns of Isiro and Viadana in the northeastern province of Orientale.”
Sixteen people died in an Ebola outbreak in Uganda in August, but WHO says that the 65 current probable or suspected cases of Ebola in DRC are unrelated to the Ugandan cases.
Kinshasa, DRC’s capital, is a densely populated ramshackle metropolis of 9 million people. The nation’s health care infrastructure is reportedly crumbling and shoddy after years of regional conflict and neglect. In 2011, the DRC was ranked 187th in the world in development by the United Nations.