The new outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus has claimed its first victims in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The deadly hemorrhagic fever has been confirmed among 11 other people in the African nation. A health official said on Thursday that seven people suffering from Ebola are now in hospital in Bikoro DRC. Four new cases were recorded in the town of Ikoko Impenge, in additional to the death. Three nurses are among those infected. However, there are earlier reports that as many as 17 other persons may have succumbed to the contagious fever.

The World Health Organization is cooperating with local authorities to help stem the contagion. Dr. Pierre Formenty, the top expert on Ebola at WHO, told STAT that cases may date back earlier this year. DRC health ministry declared the outbreak on Tuesday, noting that at least 21 persons were known to have Ebola-like symptoms. 

The outbreak is currently found in a remote area of the central African nation where travel by road is difficult. However, the town of Bikoro is on a lake that is connected to the Ubangi and Congo rivers. This may mean that contagion can travel by boat to the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kinshasa, or to the capital of the neighboring Republic of the Congo, Brazzaville, or to the capital of the Central African Republic, Bangui. WHO officials fear that Ebola could then easily spread.

Kinshasa’s population is approximately 11.6 million, and there are about 2 million people in Brazzaville, and another 800,000 in Bangui. .

Authorities from the DRC ministry of health, Doctors Without Borders, and WHO arrived in Bikoro on Wednesday.said.

Health care workers are expected to receive an experimental vaccine that is being developed by Merck. During the 2017 outbreak, DRC health officials agreed to use the vaccine. Last year, the advance of Ebola was halted after only eight cases, but the vaccine was not actually deployed. Because the DRC authorized the use of the vaccine last year, its deployment now should be speedier. 

A check with the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta showed that the page for Ebola had not been updated by 5 p.m on Thursday. Spero News contacted the CDC but received no response by deadline. No travel restrictions were mentioned on the CDC website page for Ebola.

The website for the U.S. embassy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo noted:

“The U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa informs U.S. citizens that the DRC’s health minister and the World Health Organization reported 27 possible cases, which includes 17 deaths and 2 confirmed cases, of Ebola virus disease in the province of Equateur, 200 kilometers south of Mbandaka.  The Ebola Virus is one of the hemorrhagic fever illnesses. The virus is transmitted through contact with infected blood, bodily fluids, and handling or washing of infected corpses or through contact with objects that have been in contact with infected secretions.”

The State Department has not announced any visa restrictions for persons applying to visit the U.S. from the Democratic Republic of Congo or Nigeria. The latter country has recently announced restrictions for travelers from DRC.

According to WHO, "This is DRC’s ninth outbreak of EVD since the discovery of the virus in the country in 1976. In the past five weeks, there have been 21 suspected viral haemorrhagic fever in and around the iIkoko Iponge, including 17 deaths. 'WHO is closely working with other partners, including Médecins Sans Frontières, to ensure a strong, response to support the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to prevent and control the spreading of the disease from the epicentre of iIkoko Iponge Health Zone to save lives,' said Dr. Allarangar Yokouide, WHO Representative in DRC.

Nigerian Health Minister Isaac Adewole said after a cabinet meeting on Thursday that the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) will consider sending some teams to DRC as part of building capacity for managing the outbreak. His country is imposing travel restrictions on travelers from DRC and neighboring ocuntries. Nigeria, which does not share a border with DRC, is the only country in West Africa with a mobile laboratory for hemorrhagic fevers. Ebola is highly infectious and extremely lethal. There is no current vaccine to prevent Ebola or licensed treatment for it.

John Kelly, when he was still serving as a general in the U.S. Marine Corps in 2015, warned about the consequences of the possible spread of Ebola to Mexico and Central America. Fearing a resultant flood of immigrants across the porous border of the United States, Kelly told the National Defense University "If it breaks out, it's literally,  'Katie bar the door.'” He added, “And there will be mass migration into the United States.”
 
“They will run away from Ebola, or if they suspect they are infected, they will try to get to the United States for treatment,” said Kelly.

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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