On May 3, local health authorities reported a mysterious cluster of 21 unexplained illnesses in the Bikoro Health District, located in the Equateur Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Seventeen of those 21 infected people died.
Two days later, a rapid response team was dispatched from Kinshasa to examine these cases, many of which presented with the classic symptoms of the Ebola virus, including fever, severe vomiting and bleeding. By May 7, a number of these cases tested positive for the Ebola virus at laboratory facilities of the Institute National de Recherche Biomedicale. Subsequently, a formal outbreak was declared by the Congolese Ministry of Health.
In the current outbreak, a total of 39 cases have been recorded, 29 of them in Bikoro, with a total of 19 deaths equaling a case fatality rate of 48.7 percent.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is the birthplace of Ebola, with the virus itself being named after the Ebola River that runs through the country. Since the first recorded outbreaks in the 1970s, most have been both vicious and short-lived, with the very remoteness of the landscape and the means of viral transmission (through direct contact with the body fluids of infected patients) providing a kind of natural buffer.
All of that changed back in 2014 with the massive outbreak that spread throughout the West African nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
The current outbreak is in a relatively remote area, with poor roads that both slow transmission and slow the access of responders as well. However, it is being taken very seriously given the recent history of Ebola outbreaks and proximity of this area to the Congo River, linking local populations to the major cities of Kinshasa, Brazzaville and Bangui.
Direct Relief is closely monitoring this outbreak situation in conjunction with healthcare partners at the UCLA-DRC Health Research and Training Program which is conducting Ebola virus research at the Institute National de Recherche Biomedicale.
Elsewhere in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Direct Relief is also supporting the efforts of Save the Children to respond to the needs of displaced people, and continues to be in dialogue with Congolese health authorities in terms of where best to meet health needs throughout the country.