Experimental Ebola vaccine to be used in Congo's outbreak, World Health Organization head says

Experimental Ebola vaccine to be used in Congo's outbreak, World Health Organization head says

The DRC has reported 39 suspected, probable or confirmed cases of Ebola between 4 April and 13 May, including 19 deaths.

The plan is to employ a ring vaccination approach, vaccinating anyone who has been in contact with a case to prevent continuing spread of the virus.

Only two cases have so far been confirmed in a laboratory. Since the first recorded outbreaks in the 1970s, most have been both vicious and short-lived, with the very remoteness of the landscape and the means of viral transmission (through direct contact with the body fluids of infected patients) providing a kind of natural buffer.

In Bikoro, Iboko, and Mbandaka health zones, the Ministry of Health along with WHO and partners are engaged in strengthening surveillance for new cases, carrying out contact tracing, case management, and community engagement, ensuring safe and dignified burials, and coordinating the response. The 2014-2016 outbreak in West Africa involved major urban areas as well as rural ones. "We have three health care workers infected and one already died".

"This is an experimental vaccine, not a licensed product, and there are a lot of complications", including ensuring it is stored at the correct temperature, Salama said. In addition to an importation license, the World Health Organization needs formal agreement on the research protocols with the government and local ethical review board approval for reasons of liability, and legal and insurance issues associated with use of experimental products, he added.

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With road travel between Bikoro and Mbandaka taking about 15 hours, establishing an "air bridge" is "the only way to mount a serious response", World Health Organization deputy director-general for emergency response Peter Salama said.

"This is not a simple logistical effort; it's not like doing a polio campaign with oral polio vaccines, where we get it immediately out to the field".

The Democratic Republic of Congo and United Nations agencies began deploying emergency teams of specialists over the weekend to try to prevent the spread of an Ebola epidemic suspected to have infected more than 30 people, they said on Sunday. "It's a highly complex operation in one of the most hard terrains in the world". The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission.

"At present", the agency added, "this event does not meet the criteria of a public health event of worldwide concern".

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