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World Health Organization develops experimental Ebola vaccine

12 May 2018

When news broke this week that the Democratic Republic of the Congo is facing yet another Ebola outbreak, many public health experts were not surprised.

It can be used to protect people who have had contact with Ebola victims, stopping the spread of disease, but that requires intensive contact tracing, which Salama said could take a week or two just for the cases already documented.

Three health care professionals are among the confirmed cases, Ilunga said: "As health professionals are the first actors in the government's response to Ebola, this situation is of concern to us and requires a response that is all the more immediate and energetic".

The WHO has already reported 32 suspected or confirmed cases, including 18 deaths, between April 4 and May 9, 2018.

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Additionally, the surrounding 9 countries have also been put on "high alert". In this case, the vaccine's deployment is meant to assist health-care workers in ending the outbreak long before it has the possibility of turning into an epidemic. A team from the Ministry of Health, supported by WHO and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) visited the Ikoko-Impenge Health Area on 5 May 2018 and detected five active cases, two of whom were admitted to Bikoro General Hospital and three who were admitted in the health centre in Ikoko-Impenge. Fatality rates have varied from 25% to 90% in past outbreaks, with an average of about 50%.

Ebola viruses probably spread in bats most of the time, but they do occasionally "jump" to other species such as deer, monkeys or humans.

"We are very concerned, and we are planning for all scenarios, including the worst case scenario", WHO's head of emergency response Peter Salama told reporters in Geneva.

This could have a benefit since it could slow down the spread of Ebola, but it also greatly complicates the response.

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The WHO has also put Congo's nine neighbours on high alert, with most concern for the Congo Republic, which shares a long border with it on the Congo and Ubangi rivers, and the Central African Republic to the north, although the risk of global spread was still seen as low. Without preventive measures, the virus can spread quickly between people through blood, other bodily fluids, and surfaces that have been infected.

This Ebola outbreak is the DRC's 9th known outbreak since 1976, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The outbreak is contained to the Democratic Republic of the Congo so far.

On Friday, Salama said he has spoken to DR Congo's health minister and hoped that he would soon have approval to use the vaccine, which was developed by Merck in 2016.

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World Health Organization develops experimental Ebola vaccine