Ebola outbreak spreads to Congo city of 1 million

WHO may declare international emergency as Ebola outbreak reaches major city in Congo

WHO may declare international emergency as Ebola outbreak reaches major city in Congo

The northwest city of Mbandaka, which has a confirmed case of Ebola, is situated on the Congo River and is just a few kilometres away from capital city of Kinhasa.

Notably, about 23 people have reportedly died and 42 people have contracted the virus since Epola outbreak began earlier in May.

World Health Organization deputy director for emergency preparedness Peter Salama said urgent containment measures were needed.

The Ebola virus disease, which most commonly affects people and nonhuman primates such as monkeys, gorillas and chimpanzees, is caused by one of five Ebola viruses. On Wednesday, the World Health Organization delivered 4,000 injections of an experimental vaccine with proven efficacy in recent trials, with more batches expected soon.

The worst-ever Ebola outbreak started in December 2013 in southern Guinea before spreading to neighbouring west African countries Liberia and Sierra Leone, killing more than 11,300 people out of almost 29,000 registered cases. The city is about 93 miles from Bikoro, the rural area where the outbreak was announced last week.

At present, 514 people who may have been in contact with infected people have been notified by the national health authorities, and they are now under monitoring.

"We're certainly not trying to cause any panic in the national or global community", Salama said. Senior WHO official Peter Salama said the spread to Mbandaka meant there was the potential for an "explosive increase" in cases.

Mbandaka, a city of nearly 1.2 million, is in a busy travel corridor in Congo's northwest Equateur province and is upstream from the capital, Kinshasa, a city of about 10 million.

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Salama also noted Mbandaka's proximity to neighboring countries, including Central African Republic and Republic of Congo.

A total of 514 people who may have been in contact with infected people have been notified by national health authorities and are being monitored and may be candidates for the first round of vaccines.

Similarly, the European Commission has released around 1.6 million euros (1.9 million dollars) to help tackle an Ebola outbreak in Congo, as well as organising flights to transport emergency staff and equipment to the affected areas.

Those exposed to the suspected Ebola cases will for the first time in Congo receive Ebola vaccinations, the health minister said.

The spread of the virus from rural areas into a city has raised fears it could quickly spread and become harder to control.

The WHO is sending 7,540 doses of an experimental vaccine to try to stop the outbreak in its tracks, and 4,300 doses have already arrived in Kinshasa.

There is, however, a logistical challenge as the Canadian vaccine, which is called rVSV-ZEBOV, needs to be stored at minus 80 degrees Celsius and is only available in the capital, Health Minister Oly Ilunga told Reuters. The virus is transmitted to human through contact with wild animals and can then be passed from person to person.

Information for this article was contributed by Jamey Keaten of The Associated Press.

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