Ebola cases spike as nervous communities stop cooperating with health care workers

Thursday, October 11, 2018
By Paul Martin


An outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus is on the rise in a regional trading hub in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as terrified residents, including those who have been infected, avoid health care workers.

Public health officials have watched with mounting concern in the last week as the number of cases of Ebola in the heavily populated North Kivu and Ituri Provinces have grown, more than two months after the outbreak was identified.

The Congolese Health Ministry said Wednesday that 194 cases of hemorrhagic fever have been reported in the two provinces in eastern Congo, along the border with Uganda.

That’s an increase of 32 cases in just a single week, a startling number for a virus that usually dies down soon after public health officials begin treating the outbreak.

One hundred twenty-two people have died so far. Another 53 people have been discharged from Ebola treatment centers after having survived the disease.

In a typical Ebola outbreak, the number of cases begins to fall after public health officials begin interceding to stop the spread of the virus.

“Usually, by this point in the response, we would have hoped to see no more cases,” said Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesman for the World Health Organization who visited the cities at the center of the outbreak last month.

Public health officials responding to the mounting outbreak are closely watching Beni, a city of about a quarter of a million residents and an important regional trading hub with ties to nearby Uganda. Of the 32 new cases identified in the last week, 26 have been in Beni.

Beni has been the site of several attacks from Islamist militants based in Uganda, which have terrorized city residents and hindered response operations. Health officials had to pause their response for several days to honor a city-wide period of mourning for those killed in the most violent attacks last month.

The security situation has made response efforts more difficult, said Anne Rimoin, an epidemiologist at the University of California at Los Angeles who researches the Ebola virus and other infectious diseases from Kinshasa.

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