Unrelated Ebola outbreaks reported in DRC, Guinea
Two new Ebola outbreaks have been declared in just over a week including one in Guinea, marking the first cases in that country since the 2014-2016 West African epidemic.
The other outbreak is occurring in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which had been Ebola-free for only a matter of months.
“The outbreaks ... are completely unrelated, but we face similar challenges in both,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, said during a press briefing Monday. “Both outbreaks are occurring in areas that have recent experience with Ebola and are benefiting from that experience in terms of capacity for surveillance, rapid response, contact tracing, community engagement, clinical care and more.”
He added, however, that the outbreaks are in “hard-to-reach, insecure areas with some mistrust of outsiders,” which could complicate the response.
On Monday, health authorities in Guinea declared an outbreak of Ebola in the community of Gouéké in N’Zerekore after three cases were confirmed. Guinea was one of three countries at the center of the West African epidemic the largest Ebola outbreak in history, during which more than 28,000 people were infected and more than 11,300 died.
Initial investigations revealed that a nurse from a local health facility died on Jan. 28, 2021, and following her burial, six funeral attendees reported Ebola-like symptoms. According to WHO, two have since died and the other four individuals remain hospitalized.
WHO staff are on the ground in Guinea performing surveillance and ramping up infection prevention and control efforts in health facilities, as well as reaching out to the community for help with the response, WHO said. According to a press release, WHO is also supporting Guinea in securing Ebola vaccine doses.
“It’s a huge concern to see the resurgence of Ebola in Guinea, a country which has already suffered so much from the disease,” WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti, MBBS, MSc, said in the release. “However, banking on the expertise and experience built during the previous outbreak, health teams in Guinea are on the move to quickly trace the path of the virus and curb further infections.”
The outbreak in the DRC was declared Feb. 7 after the wife of a survivor of a previous Ebola outbreak died from the disease nearly 8 months after that outbreak — the second largest in history after the West African epidemic — was declared over. WHO said her death raised concerns about a resurgence of the virus, noting that the woman’s burial was not done using safe burial practices for confirmed or suspected Ebola cases.
According to WHO, the DRC Ministry of Health reported the new case in Butembo, a city in North Kivu, the eastern province where the 2018-2020 outbreak took place, ultimately infecting 3,481 and leaving 2,299 dead. The woman, whose samples tested positive for Ebola, sought medical attention for Ebola-like symptoms and later died. Testing is still underway to determine if this case represents a resurgence of the 2018-2020 outbreak.
Tedros said that a total of four cases have been confirmed and two people have died. He said new shipments of vaccine arrived in Butembo last week and vaccinations have already begun, with 43 of the 149 eligible contacts having been vaccinated to date, including 20 who were vaccinated during the previous outbreak in 2019.
“WHO is working closely to engage with the affected communities to enhance trust and acceptance,” Tedros said. “Ebola and COVID-19 are two very different diseases. Both thrive on misinformation and mistrust, but both can be stopped with proven public health measures, engaged communities, accurate information and vaccines.”