WHO Says Congo Faces 'Very High' Risk From Ebola Outbreak

12 2018 health workers don protective clothing as they prepare to attend to patients in the isolation ward to diagnose and treat suspected Ebola patients at Bikoro Hospital in Bikoro the rural area where the Ebola out

Confirmed cases of Ebola had previously been limited to a remote area more than 160km south of Mbandaka, in the rainforest of Congo's Equateur province.

So far 23 people have reportedly died from the disease in the Congolese outbreak.

"This is a major, major game-changer in the outbreak", Dr. Peter Salama, the World Health Organization's deputy director-general of emergency preparedness and response, warned on Thursday.

Total potential cases of Ebola are 45 thus and till date, this latest outbreak has killed 25 individuals.

West Africa experienced the largest recorded outbreak of Ebola over a two-year period beginning in March 2014; a total of 28,616 confirmed, probable and suspected cases were reported in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, with 11,310 deaths, according to the WHO. An initial batch of 4,000 experimental Ebola vaccines arrived Wednesday in the capital, Kinshasha.

Mbandaka is about 150 kilometers from Bikoro, the rural area where Congo declared a new outbreak of Ebola on May 8 - the country's ninth outbreak since 1976.

The current outbreak involves the same strain of the virus that hit three West African countries in 2013-15 and sparked an worldwide panic.

"We're certainly not trying to cause any panic in the national or worldwide community", Salama said. "The potential for an explosive increase in cases is now there".

Mbandaka, a city of nearly 1.2 million people, 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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Ebola is lethal and highly contagious, which makes it hard to contain - especially in urban environments where people are mobile and come into more contact with others.

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

"While the WHO raised the national public health risk to 'very high", it said the global risk level is "currently low".

The WHO is deploying about 30 experts to conduct surveillance in the city and inform local communities on treatment and prevention methods in collaboration with the country's Ministry of Health.

Front-line health workers, people who have been in contact with those infected and contacts of those contacts will receive the Ebola vaccine, according to the WHO.

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. The virus initially is transmitted to people from wild animals, including bats and monkeys.

The virus is endemic to DRC, and causes an acute, serious illness, which is often fatal if untreated. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and at times internal and external bleeding.

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

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