Experts are struggling to track the spread of Ebola in the Congo

‘Substantial risks’ remain in the Congo’s Ebola outbreak that has killed 77 people

Officials admit it is hard to track where the Ebola virus – which has killed 77 – is spreading in the Democratic Republic of Congo

  • The fever has been spreading near the city of Beni in the country’s north-east 
  • Health officials say it is difficult to keep track of where the virus is spreading 
  • There have been 86 confirmed cases of the deadly Ebola fever since August 1
  • Experts say the country’s efforts to stop the disease are a ‘global first’
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There are still ‘substantial risks’ in the area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the grip of a deadly Ebola outbreak, the World Health Organisation has warned.

The UN agency says that although efforts to stop the virus spreading are working, it is proving hard to keep track of where the virus is active.

Four new cases surfaced last week in people who did not appear to have come into contact with other infected patients, causing concern for health workers.

The official warning came just days after the death toll rose to 77 in the central African country on August 28.

There have been 86 confirmed cases of the deadly infection since the outbreak began on August 1, with dozens more suspected.  

But experimental drugs and vaccines are being rolled out in the North Kivu region in a world-first bid to treat people already infected and prevent new infections.

Health officials say there are still challenges to tackling the Congo’s Ebola outbreak because it can be hard to track exactly where the source of the infection is. (Pictured: A health worker gets ready to perform medical checks inside an Ebola Treatment Centre in Beni, where the outbreak began)

The DRC’s Ebola outbreak is now entering its second month and the WHO said on Friday ‘substantial risks’ remain in trying to control the virus.

Global health officials said that while control measures appear to be working, health officials are still unable to track exactly where the deadly virus is spreading. 

Four of the 13 new cases from the city of Beni were not previously identified as contacts, meaning officials don’t know how they were exposed to Ebola.  

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An important part of preventing the spread of the virus is monitoring people who have been in contact with others infected with the fever, to make sure they don’t develop symptoms and spread the infection.   

If people develop the infection without coming into contact with previous patients it could mean the virus is coming from elsewhere.

This makes it harder for health workers to track down and contain all the sources of the fast-spreading disease.  

The WHO also reports ‘sporadic instances’ of high-risk behaviors like unsafe burials, which could worsen the outbreak because Ebola can still be caught from corpses.  

But there are rays of hope for the troubled African country – two infected patients have recovered after being given an experimental therapeutic drug. 

More than 3,400 people have been given the medicines and experts say the DRC’s medical assault on the infection is a ‘global first’.

The UN health agency in a new statement said most patients recently admitted to Ebola clinics were given experimental treatments and that many contacts of cases have been immunized with a novel vaccine. 

Ebola can be fatal in up to 90 per cent of cases 

Ebola is a haemorrhagic fever which causes sudden fever, vomiting, diarrhoea and internal and external bleeding.

The virus can be fatal in up to 90 per cent of cases, depending on the strain, and spreads quickly between people through contact with infected bodily fluids.

The DRC’s current outbreak is taking place in the north-east of the country, around the city of Beni near the Ugandan border.

Two patients have recovered after receiving experimental drug 

But health officials may be making progress in the fight as a widespread drug programme has shown signs of success.

Last week, two of the first 10 people to have been given an experimental cure known as mAb114 made a recovery from the often-deadly infection.

In a statement the DRC’s health ministry confirmed: ‘These two people are among the first 10 patients to have received the therapeutic molecule mAb114.’

Treatment usually relies on keeping patients hydrated and quarantined, and trying to manage their symptoms as the body tries to fight off the virus.

Congo’s vaccination efforts ‘a world first and a ray of hope’ 

Some 75 people have died in the most recent Ebola outbreak taking place in the North Kivu province in the north-east of Democratic Republic of Congo. Pictured: Health workers carry the body of a suspected victim last Wednesday, August 22, in Mangina, a town near Beni

Developed in the US, mAb114 was the first of five experimental treatments the DRC has begun using in the outbreak.

The health ministry has confirmed four other experimental drugs have been approved for use in the country – ZMapp, Remdesivir, Favipiravir and Regn3450-3471-347. 

The World Health Organisation said the country’s attempts to stop the virus were ‘a global first, and a ray of hope for people with the disease.’

Healthcare offered for free to encourage people to seek help 

The mayor in the city of Beni, Jean Edmond Nyonyi Masumbuko Bwanakawa, has announced treatment for Ebola will be free in the region for three months.

He hopes the move will encourage people to seek immediate medical help and not be put off by a fear of having to pay for healthcare.

More than 100 people are thought to still be living with Ebola in the area. 


Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever, killed at least 11,000 across the world after it decimated West Africa and spread rapidly over the space of two years.

That pandemic was officially declared over back in January 2016, when Liberia was announced to be Ebola-free by the WHO.

The country, rocked by back-to-back civil wars that ended in 2003, was hit the hardest by the fever, with 40 per cent of the deaths having occurred there.

Sierra Leone reported the highest number of Ebola cases, with nearly of all those infected having been residents of the nation.


An analysis, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found the outbreak began in Guinea – which neighbours Liberia and Sierra Leone.

A team of international researchers were able to trace the pandemic back to a two-year-old boy in Meliandou – about 400 miles (650km) from the capital, Conakry.

Emile Ouamouno, known more commonly as Patient Zero, may have contracted the deadly virus by playing with bats in a hollow tree, a study suggested.


Figures show nearly 29,000 people were infected from Ebola – meaning the virus killed around 40 per cent of those it struck.

Cases and deaths were also reported in Nigeria, Mali and the US – but on a much smaller scale, with 15 fatalities between the three nations.

Health officials in Guinea reported a mysterious bug in the south-eastern regions of the country before the WHO confirmed it was Ebola. 

Ebola was first identified by scientists in 1976, but the most recent outbreak dwarfed all other ones recorded in history, figures show.


Scientists believe Ebola is most often passed to humans by fruit bats, but antelope, porcupines, gorillas and chimpanzees could also be to blame.

It can be transmitted between humans through blood, secretions and other bodily fluids of people – and surfaces – that have been infected.


The WHO warns that there is ‘no proven treatment’ for Ebola – but dozens of drugs and jabs are being tested in case of a similarly devastating outbreak.

Hope exists though, after an experimental vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV, protected nearly 6,000 people. The results were published in The Lancet journal. 

Unsafe burial of patient triggered the outbreak  

According to the WHO, the unsafe burial of a 65-year-old Ebola sufferer was to blame for triggering the current outbreak.

After she was buried, members of her family began to display symptoms of the virus and seven of them were reported to have died.

Genetic analysis confirmed the virus in the latest outbreak is the Zaire strain, which is the same as the one earlier this summer.

Yet, Peter Salama, WHO’s deputy director for emergency preparedness and response, revealed last week the pathogen is genetically different to the virus seen before. 

Fears outbreak is reminiscent of 2014 epidemic 

An Ebola patient is being checked by two medical workers after being admitted into a Biosecure Emergency care Unite (CUBE) in Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo

The current Ebola outbreak is the 10th to strike the Congo since 1976, when the virus was first identified and named after the Ebola River in the north of the country.

The outbreak on the border of Uganda was announced just days after another was declared over in the north-west of the Congo at the start of August.

Virologists feared it would be ‘reminiscent’ of the 2014 Ebola pandemic, which decimated West Africa and killed 11,000 people.

Yet the new outbreak has already dwarfed the one earlier this summer and has stoked more fears among the medical community.

Calls to end violence  

In a desperate attempt to stem the outbreak, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) chief called for an end to the fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) last week.

Dr Tedros Adhanom travelled to east DRC to examine the situation in person and told reporters in Switzerland he was ‘actually more worried after the visit than before’.

He added: ‘We call on the warring parties for a cessation of hostilities because the virus is dangerous to all. It doesn’t choose between this group and that group.’

Professor Paul Hunter, a virologist at the University of East Anglia, last week praised an experimental vaccine being distributed in the DRC that stops the spread of Ebola.

Aid workers will have to work among more than 100 armed groups 

Yet, he also raised fears that conflict in the region might make the outbreak hard to control, as those infected could be displaced to refugee camps where the virus can thrive.

Professor Hunter said: ‘The effectiveness of any immunisation campaign depends on the ability to deliver that vaccine to the appropriate people is a timely manner.

‘Unfortunately the latest outbreak is in an area of armed conflict and this poses substantial difficulties for effective prevention.’

Aid workers have been told they will have to navigate their response among more than 100 armed groups.

A WHO spokesperson said: ‘This is an active conflict zone. The major barrier will be safely accessing the affected population.’ 

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