Ebola spreads to high risk areas in DR Congo

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Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ebola outbreak has spread southwards into an area with high security risks according to the World Health Organisation.

The outbreak, the country’s worst, killed 439 of 713 people believed to have the disease. The fight against Ebola depends on tracing people who may have had contact with the disease and could fall ill and spread it further.

The outbreak in a region of Congo with frequent fighting makes it hard for health workers to move and monitor potential carriers and spread messages about avoiding becoming sick.

Most cases since the start of the year have been in Katwa health zone, where the WHO said Ebola workers faced “pockets of community mistrust” and most people falling ill were not on lists of people suspected of contact with Ebola.

“The outbreak has extended southwards to Kayina health zone, a high security risk area,” the WHO said in a statement. There have been five cases in Kayina, between the main outbreak zone and Goma, close to the Rwandan border.

The WHO said after an Ebola simulation exercise in Rwanda, it was sending a team to beef up preparedness and to vaccinate health workers who would be first to come into contact with Ebola if it spread across the border.

WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said there was a decline in cases around previous hotspot Beni.

“It is premature to shout victory, it’s true we had some success in Beni because all the steps we’ve taken had an impact, but unfortunately we see cases in other areas,” she said.

“The country is facing Ebola and other health threats including malaria, cholera, vaccine-derived polio and a long humanitarian crisis and violence in several regions.”

More than 60,000 people have been vaccinated in Congo and 2,500 in Uganda, one of the countries at “very high” risk from the disease.

Chaib said there were 4,000 people with potential Ebola contact under surveillance and 156 patients in hospital.