WHO to administer experimental Ebola vaccines in the Congo

A health worker is sprayed with chlorine after visiting the isolation ward at Bikoro hospital, which received a new suspected Ebola case, in Bikoro, Democratic Republic of Congo May 12, 2018. (Reuters)

A health worker is sprayed with chlorine after visiting the isolation ward at Bikoro hospital, which received a new suspected Ebola case, in Bikoro, Democratic Republic of Congo May 12, 2018. (Reuters)

On Sunday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that it will be administering experimental vaccines to help combat the spread of the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

WHO says it will be working with the ministry of health, Gavi and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to conduct ring vaccinations in the affected health zones.

The organisation will administer the vaccination to healthcare workers and anyone else who has been potentially exposed to Ebola. According to WHO’s Spokesperson, Tarik Jašarević, there have been 39 reported Ebola cases from April 4 through May 13.

The announcement comes after Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to determine the significance of the Ebola outbreak in the north-west of the country.

In a statement released on Sunday, WHO announced that they will be providing resources to the area in order to combat the virus. The measures include providing vaccinations to prevent the disease and administering supplies to support infected individuals. In the report, WHO states that it will also be “working with the Ministry of Health to gather and test samples, conduct contact tracing and improve data collection and management” to learn more about the outbreak.

Tedros said that he is impressed by the government’s response to the outbreak and that they are “investing in rapidly establishing the key elements of Ebola containment.”

The vaccine, which is called recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus–Zaire Ebola virus (rVSV-ZEBOV) is still experimental, but according to WHO’s website, it proved successful in a trial in Guinea in 2015. People who received the vaccine did not get infected 10 or days more after receiving it, while there were 23 Ebola cases reported in the same time frame among individuals who did not receive the vaccine.

According to WHO, Ebola is a haemorrhagic fever that is spread through direct human-to-human contact. Although not confirmed, the disease is thought to be carried in fruit bats and can be transmitted through blood or bodily fluids between wild animals and humans. Early symptoms of the virus can appear two to 21 days after infection and include fever, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. Later symptoms include “vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, symptoms of impaired kidney and liver function and internal and external bleeding”, according to WHO. In some cases the virus can lead to death.

The disease first appeared simultaneously in South Sudan and the DRC in 1976. In 2014-2016, the disease plagued West Africa leaving countries such as Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia with more cases and deaths from the virus than they ever had. WHO described the outbreak as, “largest and most complex Ebola outbreak since the virus was first discovered.” In those three countries, there were an estimated 28 610 cases and 11 308 deaths during the outbreak.

Although the DRC was not plagued by this particular, it faced an outbreak of its own in 2012, with 57 reported cases and 29 reported deaths, meaning that there was a 51% mortality rate. According to Jašarević, this is the ninth Ebola outbreak in DRC and that it is “endemic” to the country.

Jašarević said that the origin of this outbreak is unknown, but there are epidemiologists investigating it. In order to prevent the spread of the disease, WHO recommends that individuals take caution when handling dead animals. The organisation also recommends that meat should be cooked “thoroughly”.

In regards to human-to-human contact, the organisation says that healthy individuals should use gloves and proper equipment when in contact with infected individuals. They also recommend frequent handwashing, safe sexual practices and careful burial of the dead.

Arielle Schwartz

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