The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday it would convene an emergency committee to decide whether Congo’s Ebola outbreak is a public health emergency of international concern as confirmed cases and deaths from the virus spiral.
The committee of experts may make recommendations to manage the outbreak, which was declared on Aug. 1 and has worsened, with a risk of the virus spreading from northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo into Uganda and Rwanda.
Congo’s health ministry said on Monday that in the past week alone 33 people were confirmed with Ebola virus and 24 of them died.
The ministry said the latest cases were confirmed between Oct. 8 and 14. In total, more than 200 suspected cases of the deadly hemorrhagic fever have been reported in this outbreak, all but a couple of dozen of them confirmed, while some 130 people have died since July.
Ebola spreads through contact with the bodily fluids of its victims. The health ministry said 73 patients had received new experimental treatments. Of them, just over half recovered, 20 were still in hospital and the rest died.
A plumber for the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in eastern Congo was confirmed to have Ebola on Friday, the first case of a U.N. worker contracting the disease during the current outbreak.
Thirteen cases of the hemorrhagic fever have been confirmed, including three deaths, the ministry said in a statement, adding that suspected cases had been detected in both North Kivu and neighboring Ituri province.
Three cases have been confirmed in Beni, a regional trading hub of several hundred thousand people about 30 km (18 miles) from the center of the outbreak in the town of Mabalako, and some 70 km from the Ugandan border.
The latest flare-up was announced one week after Congo’s government declared the end of another outbreak in northwestern Congo that is believed to have killed 33 people as well. Health authorities say they have no evidence the two are connected.
So far, 879 people who came into contact with Ebola patients have been identified, the ministry said. Tracking those contacts, however, could be difficult in this part of the country, given its dense population and the presence of dozens of militia groups.
As with the outbreak in western Congo, health officials plan to deploy a vaccine manufactured by Merck that they have credited with helping disrupt the spread of the virus after it reached a river port city with transport links to the capital Kinshasa.
A so-called cold chain, the series of measures needed to keep the vaccine well below zero in a tropical climate without reliable power supplies, will be set up in Beni this weekend, the statement said.