Congo’s Ebola outbreak declared a public health emergency | Science News for Students

Congo’s Ebola outbreak declared a public health emergency

There’s a high risk of the deadly virus spreading to neighboring countries
Aug 12, 2019 — 6:45 am EST
a WHO health worker screening people for Ebola

A health worker with the World Health Organization works in Congo’s North Kivu Province. She is screening people who may have come in contact with someone sick with Ebola.

J. Kannah/WHO

The Democratic Republic Congo has been in the grips of an Ebola virus outbreak for a full year. The World Health Organization (WHO) has now declared the central African nation’s outbreak a public health emergency. That’s due to a high risk of the deadly disease spreading to neighboring countries.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is the Director-General of the WHO. He announced the emergency during a July 17 news conference. However, the outbreak does not pose a global threat, he said.

“Our risk assessment remains that the risk of Ebola spread in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the region remains very high,” said Tedros at the conference. But, he added, “the risk of spread outside the region remains low.”

The Ebola outbreak began in Congo on August 1, 2018. The virus causes a serious infection. People who get it can suffer from fever, muscle pain, diarrhea and bleeding inside or outside of the body. Many infected people die. Through July 15 of this year, this outbreak had a total of 2,512 reported cases. The disease has killed 1,676 of those people.

New cases prompted the WHO’s emergency declaration. In July, the first case was confirmed in the city of Goma. Goma is the capital of Congo’s North Kivu Province. Thousands of people pass through the city daily on the way to and from the neighboring country of Rwanda. The patient in Goma had traveled from the Congolese city of Beni. Beni is at the center of the outbreak. That patient has since died.  

Ebola has also reached Uganda, which borders both Congo and Rwanda. Three cases appeared in Uganda in June, and another in July. Those patients had all traveled from Congo. WHO said there are no confirmed cases of Ebola starting in Uganda.

In a statement, WHO called on other countries to work together to help fight the outbreak. Borders and trade routes in the area should be kept open, the statement noted. Travel restrictions “can actually hamper the fight,” said Tedros. That’s because they “force people to use informal and unmonitored border crossings, increasing potential for the spread of the disease.”

Power Words

(more about Power Words)

diarrhea     (adj. diarrheal) Loose, watery stool (feces) that can be a symptom of many types of microbial infections affecting the gut.

Ebola     A family of viruses that cause a deadly disease in people. All cases have originated in Africa. Its symptoms include headaches, fever, muscle pain and extensive bleeding. The infection spreads from person to person (or animal to some person) through contact with infected body fluids. The disease gets its name from where the infection was first discovered in 1976 — communities near the Ebola River in what was then known as Zaire (and is now the Democratic Republic of Congo).

infection     A disease that can spread from one organism to another. It’s usually caused by some type of germ.

muscle     A type of tissue used to produce movement by contracting its cells, known as muscle fibers. Muscle is rich in protein, which is why predatory species seek prey containing lots of this tissue.

outbreak     The sudden emergence of disease in a population of people or animals. The term may also be applied to the sudden emergence of devastating natural phenomena, such as earthquakes or tornadoes.

risk     The chance or mathematical likelihood that some bad thing might happen. For instance, exposure to radiation poses a risk of cancer. Or the hazard — or peril — itself. (For instance: Among cancer risks that the people faced were radiation and drinking water tainted with arsenic.)

trade     The buying, selling or swapping of goods or services — indeed, of anything that has value. Trade groups represent the makers or sellers of these goods and services. When nations talk about trade, they usually refer to the sale or purchasing of goods with one or more countries.

virus     Tiny infectious particles consisting of RNA or DNA surrounded by protein. Viruses can reproduce only by injecting their genetic material into the cells of living creatures. Although scientists frequently refer to viruses as live or dead, in fact no virus is truly alive. It doesn’t eat like animals do, or make its own food the way plants do. It must hijack the cellular machinery of a living cell in order to survive.

World Health Organization     An agency of the United Nations, established in 1948, to promote health and to control communicable diseases. It is based in Geneva, Switzerland. The United Nations relies on the WHO for providing international leadership on global health matters. This organization also helps shape the research agenda for health issues and sets standards for pollutants and other things that could pose a risk to health. WHO also regularly reviews data to set policies for maintaining health and a healthy environment.