Congo’s Ebola outbreak has entered “a new phase” after a case of the deadly virus was detected for the first time in the northwest city of Mbandaka, with a population of about 1 million people, the health minister said late on Wednesday.
So far, the 23 deaths believed to have been caused by Democratic Republic of Congo’s latest Ebola outbreak had been detected in more isolated areas, giving authorities a betterchance of ring-fencing the virus.
The first urban case to be announced threatens to change that. The World Health Organization, which on Wednesday deployed the first experimental vaccines in the vast central African country, had expressed concern about the disease reaching Mbandaka, which would make the outbreak far harder to tackle.
Adding to concerns is the city’s location on the banks of the Congo River, a major thoroughfare for trade and transport into the capital, Kinshasa. The Congo Republic is on the other side of the river.
We are entering a new phase of the Ebola outbreak that is now affecting three health zones, including an urban health zone,” Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga said in a statement. “Since the announcement of the alert in Mbandaka, our epidemiologists are working in the field to identify people who have been in contact with suspected cases.”
He said authorities would intensify population tracing at all air, river and road routes out of the city.
It is the ninth time Ebola has been recorded in Congo since the disease made its first known appearance near its northern Ebola river in the 1970s.