Congo records first Ebola death in major eastern trade hub

An Ebola death in a major city in the Democratic Republic of Congo has raised fears the ongoing outbreak could spread even further.

Health officials in the African nation yesterday confirmed the virus was responsible for the death of a woman in Butembo, a city of around 1.4 million.

In response, the World Health Organization’s emergency response chief has said ‘no-one should be sleeping well tonight around the world’.

Local reports claim the unnamed woman was the mother of a known Ebola patient, who travelled from the town at the centre of the outbreak.  

It comes as the death toll from Ebola – responsible for a brutal pandemic in 2014 – in the country has reached 87 people since it began at the start of August.

At least 122 people have been infected with Ebola in the outbreak around the North Kivu region in the north-east of Democratic Republic of the Congo since it was first declared on August 1 – the city of Beni has been the centre of the current outbreak

At least 122 people have been infected with Ebola in the outbreak around the North Kivu region in the north-east of Democratic Republic of the Congo since it was first declared on August 1 – the city of Beni has been the centre of the current outbreak

At least 122 people have been infected with Ebola in the outbreak around the North Kivu region in the north-east of Democratic Republic of the Congo since it was first declared on August 1 – the city of Beni has been the centre of the current outbreak

Experimental drugs have been shipped into the area to control the virus, considered to be one of the most lethal pathogens in existence.

But virologists have repeatedly warned the situation is ‘hard to control’ because cases are in a conflict zone, roamed by armed militias.

And the World Health Organization admitted the latest death makes ending the outbreak in the east of the country significantly harder.

Butembo’s mayor revealed the victim was a woman, who was likely infected as a result of participating in an unsafe burial. She died in a university clinic.

But the DRC’s Ministry of Health claims it was a man from a nearby town at the centre of the outbreak, who refused to cooperate with health authorities.

‘Ebola case from Beni has died in Butembo DRC,’ Peter Salama, the World Health Organization’s head of emergency operations, wrote on Twitter.

‘Good news is case detected quickly, response already in place and expanding. Bad new(s) is increases risk of further spread.’

He told the HuffPost: ‘When you have an Ebola case confirmed in a city with one million people, no one should be sleeping well tonight around the world.’

However, he added that having Ebola in urban centres, such as Butembo, makes ending the ongoing outbreak much harder.

An Ebola patient is led to be treated by medical workers in Beni: Since the outbreak began some 4,296 people are thought to have come into contact with people who had the virus and 16 medical workers have been infected

An Ebola patient is led to be treated by medical workers in Beni: Since the outbreak began some 4,296 people are thought to have come into contact with people who had the virus and 16 medical workers have been infected

An Ebola patient is led to be treated by medical workers in Beni: Since the outbreak began some 4,296 people are thought to have come into contact with people who had the virus and 16 medical workers have been infected

Most of the Ebola 127 cases recorded so far have been in Beni, a city of 230,000 people with close links to bordering Uganda.

Butembo, about 35 miles (55km) away, is around triple the size of Beni and is a major trading route for consumer goods entering the DRC.

There are two other suspected cases of the Ebola in the city but these have not yet been confirmed, according to local reports.

Only 96 of the cases in North Kivu province have been confirmed. The rest remain probable due to the Ebola-like symptoms.

But it has since spread to Oicha, an area almost entirely surrounded by militants, which stoked the fears of Dr Tedros Adhanom, chief of the WHO.

Dr Tedros Adhanom told Reuters last week: ‘If one case is hidden in the red zone or an inaccessible area, it’s dangerous. It can just spark a fire, just one case.’

An agency that responds to humanitarian crises last week feared the outbreak would trump the pandemic four years ago, which killed 11,000 and decimated West Africa.

The International Rescue Committee said: ‘Without a swift, concerted and efficient response, this outbreak has the potential to be the worst ever seen.’

Ebola virus disease, caused by the virus with its namesake, kills around 50 per cent of people it strikes – but there is no proven treatment available.

Some 82 people have died in the most recent Ebola outbreak taking place in the North Kivu province in the north-east of Democratic Republic of the Congo. Pictured: Health workers carry the body of a suspected victim last Wednesday, August 22, in Mangina, a town near Beni

Some 82 people have died in the most recent Ebola outbreak taking place in the North Kivu province in the north-east of Democratic Republic of the Congo. Pictured: Health workers carry the body of a suspected victim last Wednesday, August 22, in Mangina, a town near Beni

Some 82 people have died in the most recent Ebola outbreak taking place in the North Kivu province in the north-east of Democratic Republic of the Congo. Pictured: Health workers carry the body of a suspected victim last Wednesday, August 22, in Mangina, a town near Beni

The unsafe burial of a 65-year-old Ebola sufferer triggered the latest outbreak in the DRC, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

After she was buried members of her family began to display symptoms of the virus ‘and seven of them died’.

Genetic analysis has confirmed the virus is the Zaire strain, the same as the one behind an outbreak in the west of the DRC earlier this summer.

However, Peter Salama, WHO deputy director for emergency preparedness and response, last month revealed it is genetically different.

The 2014 international response to the Ebola pandemic, which decimated West Africa, drew criticism for moving too slowly and prompted an apology from the WHO.

But international aid teams have moved much quicker in response this time – with vaccination campaigns already underway in several regions. 

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 pandemic 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 pandemic 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? 

WHICH COUNTRIES WERE STRUCK DOWN BY EBOLA DURING THE 2014-16 PANDEMIC? (CDC figures)
COUNTRY                                                CASES  DEATHS DEATH RATE (%) 
GUINEA 3,814 2,544 66.7%
SIERRA LEONE  14,124  3,956  28.0% 
LIBERIA  10,678  4,810  45.0% 
NIGERIA  20  40.0% 
SENEGAL  N/A 
SPAIN  N/A 
US  25.0% 
MALI  75.0%
UK  N/A
ITALY  N/A 

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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