Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo which has killed nearly 700 people is spreading at its fastest rate yet – eight months after it was first detected
- Last week 73 new cases were reported, up from a record 56 in the week before
- The outbreak began in August and has infected 1,089 people, killing 679
- Experts hoped the outbreak would end by September but cases are on the rise
The deadly Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is spreading faster than ever, health officials have warned.
Data shows 73 people were struck down with the killer virus last week – the highest weekly toll since the start of the outbreak last August.
And more cases are being diagnosed outside of areas where health workers are, suggesting officials are losing control of the battle to contain it.
More than 1,000 people have been infected with Ebola in the African nation, while the death toll is rapidly approaching 700 people.
Health workers in the city of Butembo carry a newly admitted Ebola patient to a treatment centre last week, which had the most new cases of any week since the outbreak began
Ebola, which causes fevers, uncontrollable bleeding and organ failure, is ravaging the north east of the African nation.
Efforts to control the outbreak had been reasonably successful and, just weeks ago, officials hoped it would be over by September.
But signs are now emerging of it spreading out of health workers’ grasp as violence and mistrust of medics are making it difficult to pin down.
Last week 73 new cases were recorded, following 56 in the week before – both were record numbers.
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The previous worst weeks, which happened in January and November, had spikes of around 50 cases.
And a cause of major alarm for officials is that the cases appear to be spreading in areas away from treatment centres.
This means there is a higher chance the patients have spread the infection before they are diagnosed, because it may take longer for them to get treatment.
A total of 679 people have died in the outbreak, which has infected 1,089. Only 331 patients have recovered – a death rate of 62 per cent.
In the past two months, five Ebola centres have been attacked, some by armed militiamen.
This violence has led French medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) to suspend its activities in two of the most affected areas.
Another challenge has been a mistrust of first responders.
A survey conducted in September by medical journal The Lancet found that a quarter of people sampled in two Ebola hotspots did not believe the disease was real.
Ebola kills people by causing extreme fevers, weakness, uncontrollable bleeding and eventually organ failure – pictured, Red Cross workers carry a coffin in Butembo last week
WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said new approaches to community outreach were showing signs of progress and that some previously hostile local residents had recently agreed to grant health workers access.
One treatment centre that closed in February after being torched by unknown assailants reopened last week.
The government recently said it has managed to ‘limit the geographical spread’ of the disease, but new figures suggest it is still spreading to new areas.
‘I think all of us in the field are aware that we’re very far from being near the end of this outbreak,’ said Tariq Riebl, a member of the International Rescue Committee.
‘The increase in cases also shows we are catching up with all the transmission that we haven’t previously been aware of.’
In recent weeks, more than 40 percent of new cases in the hotspot towns of Katwa and Butembo had no known links to other cases, meaning doctors have lost track of where the virus is spreading.
WHAT IS EBOLA AND HOW DEADLY IS IT?
Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever, killed at least 11,000 across the world after it decimated West Africa and spread rapidly over the space of two years.
That epidemic was officially declared over back in January 2016, when Liberia was announced to be Ebola-free by the WHO.
The country, rocked by back-to-back civil wars that ended in 2003, was hit the hardest by the fever, with 40 per cent of the deaths having occurred there.
Sierra Leone reported the highest number of Ebola cases, with nearly of all those infected having been residents of the nation.
WHERE DID IT BEGIN?
An analysis, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found the outbreak began in Guinea – which neighbours Liberia and Sierra Leone.
A team of international researchers were able to trace the epidemic back to a two-year-old boy in Meliandou – about 400 miles (650km) from the capital, Conakry.
Emile Ouamouno, known more commonly as Patient Zero, may have contracted the deadly virus by playing with bats in a hollow tree, a study suggested.
HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE STRUCK DOWN?
Figures show nearly 29,000 people were infected from Ebola – meaning the virus killed around 40 per cent of those it struck.
Cases and deaths were also reported in Nigeria, Mali and the US – but on a much smaller scale, with 15 fatalities between the three nations.
Health officials in Guinea reported a mysterious bug in the south-eastern regions of the country before the WHO confirmed it was Ebola.
Ebola was first identified by scientists in 1976, but the most recent outbreak dwarfed all other ones recorded in history, figures show.
HOW DID HUMANS CONTRACT THE VIRUS?
Scientists believe Ebola is most often passed to humans by fruit bats, but antelope, porcupines, gorillas and chimpanzees could also be to blame.
It can be transmitted between humans through blood, secretions and other bodily fluids of people – and surfaces – that have been infected.
IS THERE A TREATMENT?
The WHO warns that there is ‘no proven treatment’ for Ebola – but dozens of drugs and jabs are being tested in case of a similarly devastating outbreak.
Hope exists though, after an experimental vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV, protected nearly 6,000 people. The results were published in The Lancet journal.
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