Congolese authorities raced to contain an Ebola epidemic on Thursday after a gold miner with a big family contaminated several individuals in the east’s primary town of Goma before dying of hemorrhagic fever, officials said.
The government’s Ebola reaction coordinator, Jean-Jacques Muyembe, said an estimated half of Ebola instances-which has murdered at least 1,800 since the epidemic began a year ago-were unknown
“If we continue on that basis, this epidemic could last two or three years,” he told a news conference in Goma.
This is the second worst recorded Ebola outbreak after a 2013- 16 West African epidemic infected 28,000 individuals and murdered 11,300, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
On Friday, the govt said the miner’s spouse had tested positive for the disease- the fourth case verified in Goma, more than 350 km (220 miles) south of where the outbreak was first detected, raising concerns of an acceleration in diseases near the Rwandan frontier.
“The gold miner … will have contaminated several people, but for the moment it is only his wife and one of his ten children who are sick,” Muyembe said.
Earlier this week, the person himself had died of the virus and only sought therapy more than a week after beginning to demonstrate symptoms.
“The individual concerned spent time with his family … (being) very symptomatic within the community. So we did expect further cases and we are seeing further cases,” Margaret Harris, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organisation (WHO), which declared Ebola an international health emergency last month, told journalists in Geneva.
A sister of that same miner who had traveled to Congo’s South Kivu province was swiftly identified and brought back to Goma, Muyembe said.
Health workers are technologically better equipped than ever to fight Ebola, which causes vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding, and kills more than half of its victims.
New instruments including a trial vaccine, experimental treatments, and futuristic cube- shaped portable therapy units have helped to reduce the spread of the virus.
But government mistrust and widespread insecurity in areas of eastern Congo have hampered the reaction.
The govt said one of the couple’s daughters also tested positive for Ebola. In preliminary controls, two other daughters were negative.
A Congo spokesperson for the Ebola reaction team, Giscard Kusema, said 240 of the miner’s 300 main and secondary contacts had been vaccinated in Goma. Two of the early caught Ebola patients are doing well.
“The two patients’ vital signs that are out of danger and we hope they will become the first people cured in Goma,” Muyembe said. “If you show up for treatment early the chances of survival are relatively good.”
Goma, a town of at least 1 million individuals, lies nestled among mountains and an active volcano bordering Rwanda-whose authorities closed the border briefly in panic on Thursday against the recommendation of health officials.
“When you close borders… two things happen: first you get panic, people see this as a signal to start panicking,” Harris told reporters in Geneva. “Second, people who do have symptoms go underground … so we are even less likely to detect where this virus is moving,” she added.
Two individuals died in Uganda, which is also bordering Congo, further south. Harris said that of all four Ebola patients in Goma, 538 main and secondary contacts had been traced so far.