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DR Congo: Containing the Ebola Outbreak

In late December an outbreak of the highly contagious Ebola virus was confirmed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo). The outbreak is believed to have infected more than 36 people, including at least 12 deaths. DR Congo is trying to contain the outbreak, while some neighboring countries are also taking precautions.

Ebola (technically known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever) is a virus that invokes fear in many people because there is no cure, the virus is easily transmitted between people (through contact with body fluids), and it is usually fatal. Amanda Taub, posting on Wronging Rights, describes the virus:

“Ebola, for those not familiar, is basically the worst possible thing that your ‘flu-like symptoms’ could be a sign of. It starts with a headache and sore throat, accompanied by a high fever and muscle weakness. Victims then develop vomiting, diarrhea, and impaired liver and kidney function. These late-stage symptoms are often accompanied by internal and external bleeding, as white blood cell and platelet counts drop precipitously. This can include bleeding from the eyes and mouth, which gives the victims a particularly frightening appearance.”

This recent Ebola outbreak was confirmed in the Congolese district of Mweka in the country’s western Kasai province. It is suspected that one of the sources behind this outbreak are infected dead monkeys, which could have transferred the disease to hunters and women. In response, neighboring countries are taking precautions. Angola has increased border restrictions with DR Congo and Tanzania is also on Ebola alert. A post on South African Catholic elaborates:

“Recently, Angola, closed off their border with the affected region of DRC, Congo, having placed their police and military on high alert. Ebola has spread across the border to Sudan before, and countries in the region are edgy, due to the mostly lethal, and incurable nature of the disease. The Ebola disease is named after a river in the DR Congo.”

A post on Ending Extreme Poverty in the Congo points out that there have been no travels bans to DR Congo yet, though:

“Tanzania is on alert against the Ebola outbreak. Angola closed its borders.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has NOT advised a travel ban. Even last year when 187 people died, a travel ban was NOT established.

If Congolese's poor were more mobile, and if it was warranted, a travel ban may be prudent. However without good private or public transportation, it is unlikely a sick person could make it to Tanzania's border. About 125 miles away, the Angola border is closer to outbreak area.”

This is the fourth Ebola outbreak in DR Congo since 1976; the last one happened in 2007. This Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) blog records the experiences of a doctor trying to contain the last Ebola outbreak in DR Congo. MSF has sent a team of experts to Kasai to try and contain this outbreak as well. But Viceroy, blogging on Superstrain, doesn't have high hopes:

“If the past is any indication of how things will turn out in the present, we will likely see the death toll of this outbreak rise considerably.”

Blogger JShaffer is saddened by the news of another outbreak in DR Congo, as is the blogger of this post on the Foreign Policy Association's Africa blog:

“As if circumstances are not difficult in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the country has now seen a new outbreak of Ebola. The DRC is a country that never seems to catch a break and rarely makes its own good fortune.”

However, pO157, commenting on their post on Trees & Things, tries to be a little more optimistic about the Ebola situation:

“The only good thing about the situation is the relatively well isolated locations it [Ebola] keeps breaking out in. As long as the folks coming down with this ailment don't end up on a plane or something we should be okay.

Given the advances in science and medicine I think if they can hold the disease to the Congo for the next ~5-10 years then Ebola will be done.”

Photo of Ebola Graffiti by stirwise on Flickr.

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