A World Health Organization spokesman on Sunday confirmed two Ebola cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Sundaykara, bringing the outbreak’s total to 19 suspected and confirmed cases, including three deaths. Health agencies are now in preliminary discussions about sending an experimental vaccine to the outbreak area.
The vaccine, developed in the wake of the 2014 West Africa outbreak, was deemed highly effective last year following a large-scale trial of the vaccine in Guinea in 2015. It has not yet been dispatched to the DRC, but health agencies are considering sending the 300,000 available vaccine doses. (A public-private partnership between Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and Merck stockpiled the vaccine for just such a situation.)
The Ebola cases have occurred in a largely inaccessible rural area in the country’s northeast.
“On the one hand, it’s lucky because the illness probably can’t spread on a wide scale. But on the other hand, it’s far from medical access,” WHO communications officer Eugène Kabambi told HuffPost last week.
The 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the worst in history, lasted two years and killed more than 11,000 people, primarily in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
In comparison, an unrelated Ebola outbreak in DRC in 2014 lasted four months and killed 49 people before it was stemmed, according to CNN.
The Ebola virus, which is spread through direct contact with blood or bodily fluids, such as sweat, feces, vomit or semen, is highly contagious and extremely fatal if untreated, with an average survival rate of approximately 50 percent, according to WHO.
Health officials hope that DRC’s previous brushes with Ebola will mean this year’s outbreak is quickly contained.
“The fact that this is a country that has experience dealing with Ebola should give us hope that we won’t see a pandemic on the scale of the 2014 outbreak that hit West Africa,” Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, told The Atlantic in a statement. “We stand ready to support the DRC Government in its fight against Ebola.”