Christmas travel could allow the killer Ebola virus to spread from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Uganda as officials warn the outbreak ‘moves closer every day’
- Approximately 200,000 extra people will cross borders over festive period
- Health chiefs said people are crossing to visit family and buy food from markets
- The death toll has reached a suspected 319 in the second worst outbreak
Christmas travel could trigger the Ebola outbreak to spread from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Uganda, experts fear.
Officials have warned that thousands of families will make the journey over the border to visit family and buy food during the festive period.
But the World Health Organization are concerned this heightens the risk that the killer Ebola virus will also make the same journey.
The ongoing outbreak in the DRC is the second biggest to ever be recorded, with figures showing 319 people in the African nation have died so far.
Countries bordering the DRC, including Uganda, are already on high alert, as health experts said the virus ‘moves closer every day’.
The death toll of Ebola has reached a suspected 319, including 271 confirmed, in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the second biggest outbreak in history
Andrew Bakainaga, a senior WHO official in Uganda, said: ‘Christmas is a particular concern because we know there is a lot of movement as people buy food and visit family.
‘We expect the number of people moving across the border might increase from around 300,000 to 500,000 per month.’
Figures have confirmed that 491 people have been struck down with Ebola in the DRC – with a further 51 currently undergoing testing.
The WHO data also revealed the confirmed death toll is 271, as the remaining 48 deaths continue to be thoroughly investigated.
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‘The next month, over the Christmas and New Year, will be critical to what happens to this outbreak,’ Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, told MailOnline.
The UK-based charity has funded research into one of many vaccines being used to try and stem the outbreak in the DRC
Provinces North Kivu and Ituri remain at the centre of the outbreak, but measures have been taken to secure the safety of Uganda and South Sudan.
The Lhubiriha River lies on the border between the DRC and Uganda, where families, farms and markets are shared.
Busy travelling periods at Christmas could spread the deadly Ebola further, experts have warned. Pictured, a member of the medical staff at a DRC – Uganda border
Fearing Ebola will easily pass across the communities, organisations are working to keep measures tight. Pictured, a medical assistant uses a non-contact thermometer to check the temperature of people at the border between the Congo and Uganda, December 12
Less than 40 miles (70km) away, authorities have already confirmed one case of Ebola – which was responsible for a brutal epidemic in 2014.
‘This distance keeps on reducing,’ said Samuel Kasimba, a local health official in charge of coordinating the effort to stop Ebola from entering Uganda.
‘The outbreak is moving closer to Uganda. In case it comes, God forbid, we are ready.’
Fearing Ebola will easily pass across the communities, organisations are working to keep measures tight.
Regular commuters reportedly have had red rashes on their hands from repeated washing in the harsh chlorine, one of several measures to try and prevent the virus from spreading.
On top of this, more than 123,000 Congolese refugees have journeyed to Uganda seeking refuge from communal violence in the past year.
People from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) wash their hands at the Ebola screening point bordering with DRC in Mpondwe, western Uganda, December 12
A medical assistant uses a non-contact thermometer to check the temperature of people crossing the border in Mpondwe, western Uganda, December 12
Regular commuters reportedly have had red rashes on their hands from repeated washing in the harsh chlorine. Pictured, a woman from DRC disinfects her feet at the Ebola screening point bordering with DRC in Mpondwe, western Uganda, December 12
Tracking suspected contacts of Ebola victims remains a challenge in areas controlled by rebels.
Aid workers face the threat of attack from armed groups and resistance from a wary population in a region that had never faced an Ebola outbreak before.
Armed rebels have attacked, kidnapped and killed medical staff trying to combat the outbreak and equipment has been destroyed, making it difficult to help victims.
The treatment of Ebola itself has taken an experimental turn in DRC, where scientists are now conducting a real-time study of how well pioneering drugs work.
Four experimental drugs are being used to try and combat the disease – mAb 114, ZMapp, Remdesivir and Regeneron.
Patients will get one of the four, but researchers won’t know which they were given until after the study.
Dr Farrar said: ‘Thousands of lives are being saved thanks to the dedication of nurses, doctors and health care workers.
‘The Ebola vaccine and now also potential treatments available as part of clinical trials are having a huge impact.
‘But, we are in a crucial phase and it is an incredibly challenging and frightening environment for health workers.’
WHAT IS EBOLA AND HOW DEADLY IS IT?
Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever, killed at least 11,000 across the world after it decimated West Africa and spread rapidly over the space of two years.
That epidemic was officially declared over back in January 2016, when Liberia was announced to be Ebola-free by the WHO.
The country, rocked by back-to-back civil wars that ended in 2003, was hit the hardest by the fever, with 40 per cent of the deaths having occurred there.
Sierra Leone reported the highest number of Ebola cases, with nearly of all those infected having been residents of the nation.
WHERE DID IT BEGIN?
An analysis, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found the outbreak began in Guinea – which neighbours Liberia and Sierra Leone.
A team of international researchers were able to trace the epidemic back to a two-year-old boy in Meliandou – about 400 miles (650km) from the capital, Conakry.
Emile Ouamouno, known more commonly as Patient Zero, may have contracted the deadly virus by playing with bats in a hollow tree, a study suggested.
HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE STRUCK DOWN?
Figures show nearly 29,000 people were infected from Ebola – meaning the virus killed around 40 per cent of those it struck.
Cases and deaths were also reported in Nigeria, Mali and the US – but on a much smaller scale, with 15 fatalities between the three nations.
Health officials in Guinea reported a mysterious bug in the south-eastern regions of the country before the WHO confirmed it was Ebola.
Ebola was first identified by scientists in 1976, but the most recent outbreak dwarfed all other ones recorded in history, figures show.
HOW DID HUMANS CONTRACT THE VIRUS?
Scientists believe Ebola is most often passed to humans by fruit bats, but antelope, porcupines, gorillas and chimpanzees could also be to blame.
It can be transmitted between humans through blood, secretions and other bodily fluids of people – and surfaces – that have been infected.
IS THERE A TREATMENT?
The WHO warns that there is ‘no proven treatment’ for Ebola – but dozens of drugs and jabs are being tested in case of a similarly devastating outbreak.
Hope exists though, after an experimental vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV, protected nearly 6,000 people. The results were published in The Lancet journal.
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