Ebola is a word the brings terror and mass confusion to mind. An outbreak of any type could be devastating, and for the most part, many assume we have seen the last of the disease with the end of the 2014 outbreak. This is not the case as suddenly it is resurfacing in refugee populations in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This most recent outbreak started on April 22 and has grown 800 percent since then.
The current outbreak is still in the early stages. The total number of cases jumped from nine to 29 in seven days. As relief workers found out during the 2014 outbreak, it only takes one patient traveling outside of the exposure zone to start a widespread, multi-national outbreak. There have already been approximately 400 people exposed to the virus from these 29 cases alone.
On April 22, the recent outbreak came to the attention of the World Health Organization as a man being transported to the hospital with a suspected case died. According to a recent report:
“The outbreak was reported in a densely forested part of Bas-Uele Province, near the border with the Central African Republic. Cases have occurred in four separate parts of a region called the Likati health zone.
Aid groups and the W.H.O. have struggled to reach the affected area, which has no paved roads.
The first known case occurred on April 22, when a 39-year-old man who had fever, vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding died on the way to a hospital in the Likati zone. The person caring for him and a motorcyclist who transported him also died.
The first six months of the response to the outbreak are expected to cost the W.H.O. and aid groups $10 million. Telecommunications networks would have to be established and airstrips repaired so that aid workers can provide the necessary medical care.”
While the current outbreak is concentrated in a remote part of Africa, it is not enough to assume the remote location works as an advantage. The W.H.O. workers have had a tough time even getting to treatment sites so at this time is in not clear if the 400 people they know have come into contact with Ebola are the only ones. There may be others who have continued to travel in the area. Many Africans are making their way to Europe amidst the migrant crisis. It could only be a matter of time before it spreads in that manner.
The outbreak in 2014 began in this same manner, in a remote part of Africa. According to a recent report:
“With international travel via airports, trains and cars available throughout the region, a single infected individual on an airplane could infect scores of others, who in turn could infect scores more.”
In an attempt to slow down the current growth of the breakout, emergency workers are moving into the area to focus on the 400 exposures. These efforts will include setting up isolation units to limit those people from passing it on to others.
400 exposures may not seem like that big of a number, but remember it only takes one person traveling outside of the immediate area to turn this number into thousands. The video below explains how Ebola can suddenly move beyond the local area to a worldwide issue. It does not take much for this to happen. With refugees streaming out of Africa, this scenario is not outrageous.
It is not known yet if the current outbreak is a similar strain to the one we saw in 2014. That strain has been particularly troubling as officials realized:
“…the 2014 strain began hyper-evolving, to the point that had it not been contained and continued to spread through human contact, it could have gone airborne, making it as easy to catch as a common cold.
In response to this unprecedented threat, US government officials began preparing for mass casualties, reportedly going so far as to develop plans for Community Care Centers where infected individuals, or those suspected of infections, would be detained indefinitely.
The concern, of course, was that a virus with a 90% fatality rate after infection would make its way to local American communities. As Tess Pennington notes in her Pandemic Preparedness Guide, once it’s within 50 miles of where you live, it’s time to worry and take immediate steps to isolate your family from the threat, because most people won’t realize how serious of a situation they are in.”
Within the public health community, there has been lots of talk about the shortcomings of the W.H.O. response to the 2014 outbreak. It is scary to think that this time around something similar may unfold naturally due to limited access to the area. The virus is growing very quickly as workers struggle to arrive on site.
The biggest difference between 2014 and now is the fact that the W.H.O. is at least attempting to get on the ground this time. Their efforts have been slower than they would like but the attempt is there. Let’s hope this is not the type of evolving strain that could at some point go airborne.