The Democratic Republic of the Congo announced on February 7, 2021 the “resurgence” of Ebola virus disease in the east of the country. The World Health Organization (WHO) dispatched a team of epidemiologists to the site following the death of a woman from the disease, while the country had announced three months ago the end of the previous epidemic. Here are five questions about this virulent virus that has struck Africa more than once.
1What is Ebola already?
The virus first appeared in 1976 in Yambuku, a remote village near the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Intrigued by this mysterious disease, the Congolese researcher Jean-Jacques Muyembe-Tamfum sends in a makeshift cooler a blood sample from a patient at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp in Belgium, where Dr Peter Piot worked. The virus is then identified and named after Ebola. Its origin is unknown, but currently available data seem to point to some bats as possible hosts.
2How do you catch Ebola?
Ebola virus is spread to humans from infected animals or through the blood or other bodily fluids of infected people. It is in any case extremely contagious and is manifested by a sudden fever, intense weakness, muscle and joint pain, headaches and throat pain and sometimes even hemorrhages. Unlike Covid-19, there are no asymptomatic patients and it is extremely virulent and contagious. A person who dies of the disease has a very high viral load in their body and can infect those who approach them if they do not take the necessary measures to protect themselves.
3 Can we speak of a new epidemic?
To date, only one case has been reported in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, three months after the end of an epidemic. This is a woman who died on February 3 after presenting “typical signs” disease, according to the Congolese Ministry of Health. The victim was the wife of an Ebola virus survivor. According to the WHO, it is common for sporadic cases to occur following a major epidemic. Epidemiologists from the World Health Organization are on the ground to investigate this case and to learn more about the strain of the virus. More than 70 contacts have been identified and the sites visited by patients have been disinfected to prevent any spread. For the moment, there is no declaration of a new epidemic.
4Is there an Ebola vaccine?
A vaccine developed in 2015 has gone a long way in combating the disease. It was first experimented with Guinea Conakry, where it proved its worth during the great epidemic (2013-2016) which affected West Africa. Since then, the vaccine, marketed under the name Ervebo, from the US group Merck & Co, and another from the Johnson & Johnson group have been used in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to tackle two outbreaks in the east and north. west of the country. The Ervebo vaccine represents a “major progress” according to the independent medical journal Prescribe which recalls that its duration of protection is not known. Its conservation is restrictive, which complicates its use in many countries. Vaccination does not exempt you from observing hygiene measures.
5Should we fear the spread of the virus?
The “resurgence” of the Ebola virus in eastern DRC is particularly worrying for the inhabitants of this region who face, in addition to the threat of Ebola, a permanent insecurity. Since the great 2013-2016 epidemic in West Africa, which killed 11,000 people, the export of cases to the West has been very limited and sick people have been treated. With the current measures taken against Covid-19, the arrival of Ebola seems very unlikely. But with each resurgence of cases in Africa, the WHO fears the spread of the virus around the world. The UN agency had also raised the previous epidemic in eastern DRC to the rank of international health emergency. And “like viruses don’t take a break“According to WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the best defense against any outbreak he believes is to invest in stronger health systems in the most vulnerable countries.