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Ebola Outbreak Spreads to 3rd Province in Eastern Congo

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo — Congo said on Friday that its yearlong Ebola outbreak had spread to a third province, with two new cases confirmed in the current outbreak, the second-largest in recorded history.

The country’s Health Ministry said two patients had tested positive this week in the Mwenga area of the province of South Kivu, more than 430 miles south of where the outbreak was first detected, in North Kivu and Ituri provinces.

The cases have opened a new front in the fight against an outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo that has affected 2,765 people, of whom 1,808 have died, according to the new report.

The current outbreak started on Aug. 1 last year, and the spread of the disease to a third province has occurred as health workers have struggled to contain it, despite the use of a vaccine.

Efforts to control the outbreak have been hampered by militia violence and some local resistance to outside help. Many people in eastern Congo do not trust doctors and other medical professionals, which along with fear of the virus has presented major hurdles to health workers combating Ebola’s spread.

The latest announcement came after scientists announced on Monday that two experimental treatments for the disease had worked so well that they would will be offered to all patients in Congo.

The World Health Organization has declared the Ebola outbreak a global health emergency, and fears of the disease’s spread led the neighboring country of Rwanda to temporarily shut a border crossing this month.

Burundi has also started vaccinating its health workers against Ebola, beginning with those near the border with Congo, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday, although Burundi has had no reported cases of the deadly hemorrhagic fever.

The health organization said that Burundi’s Health Ministry had begun vaccinating health workers at the Gatumba border crossing point this week, according to Reuters.

“Although this vaccine is not yet approved and its commercial use is not yet authorized, it has been shown to be effective and safe during Ebola outbreaks in West Africa,” the agency said in a statement. “The vaccine is used for humanitarian purposes to protect people most at risk of an Ebola outbreak. It will be administered to health and front-line staff working in priority areas where there is a risk of transmission.”

The statement did not say how many doses of the vaccine would be available for the immunization campaign, which is receiving financial support from the vaccines alliance GAVI.

Neighboring Uganda has also been on high alert since two people, part of a family visiting from Congo, died of Ebola there. A third member of the family died after returning home.

Last week, Uganda started its largest trial of a second experimental Ebola vaccine that is being developed by the American drugmaker Johnson & Johnson in collaboration with the Danish biotech Bavarian Nordic.

An Ebola epidemic in West Africa from 2013 to 2016 became the world’s largest outbreak, spreading through Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and killing more than 11,300 people.


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