Public health experts warned Ebola outbreak may be beyond control

Long Lunch 08/11/2018
Ebola doctor. Photo: AAP.

It has been warned that the latest Ebola outbreak in the Congo could be beyond containment due to the difficulty to bring healthcare to the conflict-ridden region.

The current outbreak, which is entering its fourth month, is spreading in an active war zone in part of the northeastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Armed militias in the area have attacked government outposts and citizens, adding more risk to the duties of Ebola response teams.

“The number of cases have doubled in the last month, so there’s a real need to get in there quickly and stop the spread,” said Dr Erica Ollmann Saphire, a a structural biologist at The Scripps Research Institute.

Dr Saphire told RadioLIVE that some health workers have been murdered in the area, a detail that has made it difficult to recruit additional help.

“There might also be additional challenges in trying to keep the vaccines cold or other treatments cold,” suggested Dr Saphire. “And trying to make sure there’s enough safe beds in the right high-level hospital facilities to take care of the people who are sick and not infect the healthcare workers as well.”

It’s also been estimated that 60 to 80 percent of new Ebola cases have no known epidemiological link to prior cases, the Washington Post reports.

This makes it very difficult for responders to track cases and stop transmission.

CDC says control over disease may not be possible

On Monday (local time), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the outbreak has become so serious that there may be a possibility that it can’t be controlled.

If the disease became entrenched, it would be the first time since the viral disease was first identified in 1976 that an outbreak led to the persistent presence of the disease.

Healthcare responders would then need to consider vaccinating broader populations rather than vaccinating those who have been in contact with infected people.

Ebola often proves fatal. Photo: File.

Ebola is a deadly infectious disease caused by a virus that hurts the immune system, causing severe internal bleeding and organ damage.

There have been around 300 confirmed cases in the Congo over the past four months, including 186 deaths. 

But Dr Saphire says containment is still possible, especially if local community leaders work together to help improve public health access in the region.

“I’m hopeful. Because a couple years ago we didn’t have the vaccine. And now we do. So now we have an opportunity to do something.”

Listen to the full interview with Dr Erica Ollmann Saphire above.

The Long Lunch with Carly Flynn in for Lynda Hallinan, 12pm - 3pm on RadioLIVE and streaming live to the rova app on Android and iPhone.