Monday, October 18, 2021

New vaccine halts latest Congo Ebola outbreak

Ebola kills about half of all people who become infected with the virus.

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The Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday declared the end of an Ebola outbreak that infected 12 people, killing six of them.

“I am pleased to solemnly declare the end of the 12th epidemic of Ebola virus disease in North Kivu Province,” Health Minister Jean-Jacques Mbungani said in a statement.

“Despite the security context and the Covid-19 pandemic, the rapidity and efficiency of the response put in place by the government and its partners made it possible to defeat this pandemic in less than three months,” he said.

The outbreak was contained using Merck’s Ebola vaccine, which was given to more than 1,600 of the patients’ contacts and contacts of contacts, according to the aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

The cases were genetically linked to the 2018-20 Ebola epidemic that killed more than 2,200 people – the second-highest toll recorded in the disease’s history.

The flare-up emerged on Feb 3 in the city of Butembo with the death of a woman whose husband had contracted the virus in the previous outbreak.

Just a week after the DRC declared the Ebola outbreak in August 2019, healthcare workers were granted approval to use an unlicensed vaccine, brand name Ervebo, made by American drug company Merck & Co on a “compassionate basis”, which allows the use of an unapproved drug when no other options are available.

It’s the first time the vaccine, which was still undergoing clinical trials during the West African outbreak earlier this decade, has been widely used and is being hailed as a “saviour” for healthcare workers in the Congo.

Ebola first appeared in Africa in 1976. It causes fever, bleeding, vomiting and diarrhoea and spreads among humans through bodily fluids.

It’s transmitted from animals to humans and is highly contagious among the human population from there – through direct contact, contamination of objects or even contact with the dead.

Ebola hemorrhagic fever, as it’s known, “is a rare but severe, often fatal illness in humans” that kills about half of all people who become infected with the virus, according to the World Health Organization.

Unicef heralded “the end” of the latest outbreak while vowing to “continue to work alongside the Congolese government, its partners and communities over the next 90 days” as the humanitarian organisation monitors developments.

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