By Samer Koutoubi, M.D., Ph.D.
Program Director and Faculty Member, Public Health, American Public University
An outbreak of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) has surfaced again in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The DRC government announced the outbreak on May 8 after two cases were confirmed in the Bikoro region of Equateur province, located in the northwestern part of the country.
Congo Ebola Has Caused 28 Confirmed Fatalities
So far, there have been 28 confirmed fatalities. The recent victim was a nurse in the village of Bikoro, where the outbreak was first detected. Seven other people are confirmed to have contracted the virus, giving weight to fears that the outbreak is worsening.
How Do Victims Contract the Ebola Virus?
Ebola can be spread via contact with infected animals, with blood or with any fluid of infected individuals. The virus can also be spread through contact with any medical instrument that has been contaminated by contact with infected individuals.
The disease starts with fever and the incubation period is between two and 21 days. Ebola symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Body aches
- Sore throat
- Stomach pain
- Red eyes during or after travel
Controlling Ebola Outbreaks in Africa
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with the exception of the Bikoro area, the risk for most travelers to Congo is low. But travelers could become infected if they come into contact with an infected person’s blood or body fluids. Travelers should seek medical care immediately if they develop any symptoms.
The World Health Organization (WHO) advocates Ebola vaccination for high-risk populations in Congo. According to WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “Vaccination will be key to controlling this outbreak.”
In 2015, the WHO experimented with a vaccine in Guinea and the results were shown to be highly protective against Ebola. Among the 5,837 people who received the vaccine, no Ebola cases were recorded nine days or more after vaccination.
The WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) recommends the use of the rVSV-ZEBOV Ebola vaccine under an expanded access/compassionate use protocol during Ebola outbreaks linked to the Zaire strain such as the one found in the DRC.
Are We Prepared for an Ebola Virus Outbreak?
We all remember the first case of Ebola in the United States in 2014, when a patient arrived in Texas from Liberia. The patient died. Two healthcare workers who cared for him in Dallas tested positive for EVD and recovered.
We all need to have confidence that U.S. public health officials are ready to detect, isolate and treat every case of Ebola virus. It is equally important for the public to know how Ebola is transmitted and what protective measures will stop the virus from spreading.
U.S. public health officials should continue to work with the CDC and their international partners such as the WHO. They should also work with international government agency personnel to monitor the development of the Ebola virus.
Now is the time to intensify our surveillance activities. We must follow our internal protocols for monitoring any new cases of the Ebola virus as well as our standard policy of protection in hospitals and other areas, including our national borders.
For additional information, please visit the following websites:
- Health Information for Travelers to DRC(https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/democratic-republic-of-congo)
- CDC Ebola Website
- CDC Ebola Factsheets
- CDC Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology Website
About the Author
Dr. Koutoubi earned his Ph.D. in Dietetics and Nutrition from Florida International University in 2001. He earned his M.D. degree in 1988 from Iuliu Hațieganu University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. Dr. Koutoubi's research focuses on coronary heart disease among tri-ethnic groups including African Americans, Caucasians and Hispanics. His interest is in disease prevention and wellness, epidemiological research, cardiovascular disease and nutrition, homocysteine metabolism, lipoprotein metabolism, and cultural food and health. He has also authored a number of articles in peer-reviewed journals and wrote a book review. He served as the Editor-in-Chief for The Internet Journal of Alternative Medicine and reviewed manuscripts for The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Ethnicity and Disease Journal, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and The Journal of The National Medical Association. Dr. Koutoubi has also been quoted in national magazines and newspapers including, Natural Health Magazine, Energy Time, Well Being Journal, Northwest Prime Time, and Natural Food Merchandiser.