Two Ebola patients who escaped from a quarantine in the Democratic Republic of Congo attended a prayer meeting with 50 other people, raising the possibility that those exposed could reignite the Ebola epidemic that was on the edge of spreading throughout the world back in 2014.
According to the Daily Star, health agencies confirmed that two of the three fugitives from the quarantine may have spread the virus before dying. Government officials are now worried that the deadly and highly infectious disease could spread as victims fail to grasp the seriousness of being infected.
The virus appears to be spreading despite 7,540 vaccines being distributed in the DRC by the World Health Organization. Another 8,000 doses are due to be provided in the coming days.
One doctor said the world is “on the knife’s edge” of another outbreak.
“We are on the epidemiological knife edge,” Dr. Peter Salama, the World Health Organization’s deputy director.
“The next few weeks will really tell if this outbreak is going to expand to urban areas or if we are going to be able to keep it under control.”
So far, seven of the confirmed Ebola cases have been found in urban settings. Doctors say the outbreak has “potential to expand.” Following a meeting with reporters, Dr. Peter Salama said the outbreak “could go either way in the coming weeks.” At last count, 27 people have died and at least 58 cases have been reported in the DRC since May 8.
“We are working around the clock to make sure it [goes] in the right direction,” he said.
According to Al Jazeera, the fatality rate for those infected with Ebola is roughly 50%. The DRC’s present Ebola outbreak – its ninth since the virus was identified in 1976 – initially appeared confined to a remote village in the country’s northwestern province, but no more.
One case was confirmed last week in the city of Mbandaka, home to 1.2 million people.
This marked the beginning of a “new phase” in the crisis, according to DRC Health Minister Oly Ilunga. The Health Ministry has taken efforts to emphasize that the number of cases is “normal” in the context of past outbreaks.
“As soon as you have a few confirmed cases, the persons who have been in contact with them are at risk. We knew there was a risk of more cases coming in,” Ilunga told Al Jazeera.
“What we are trying to do first is contain the outbreak so that it doesn’t spread towards other urban centres in the DRC.”
Vaccines are used on people who have come into contact with confirmed cases, since the virus has a three week incubation period.
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) May 23, 2018
Ebola can cause multiple organ failure and is passed from person to person through contact with blood or other bodily fluids.