Ebola in a war zone: what could go wrong?

A few days after skipping out on the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ebola decided, ‘nah,’ cropping back up in a town of around 60,000 potential carriers called Mangina, located in Congo’s North Kivu province. Since the latest outbreak was identified, four people have died of the hemorrhagic fever. The World Health Organization is hoping that the strain of Ebola that’s shown up in North Kivu province is the same as the one that Congolese health workers and an international team of medical professionals were able to put down, this past July: they have a vaccine for that particular strain and it works fabulously. The WHO plans on giving the vaccine a go with this new outbreak—fingers crossed! Unfortunately, in addition to the possibility that the vaccine might not work for this Ebola outbreak, those tasked with stemming the spread of the disease are facing a threat that doesn’t involve contracting a virus: Working in an active war zone.

From The New York Times:

But North Kivu Province, the volatile region in the Democratic Republic of Congo where the new outbreak is centered, creates security complications that health officials did not confront in the outbreak they just defeated in northwest Équateur Province, 1,550 miles away. The World Health Organization is worried about the safety of medical workers in North Kivu and their access to areas controlled by militants.

“This new cluster is occurring in an environment which is very different from where we were operating in the northwest,” said Dr. Peter Salama, the deputy director general of the health agency and the head of its emergency response unit.

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World Health Organization: Ebola's back, baby!

So… remember a few days ago when the World Health Organization declared the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo as having come to an end. Well, the disease is back on its bullshit again with a brand-new outbreak in the same damn country.

From Al Jazeera:

Four cases of the virus were confirmed in northeastern North Kivu province, the DRC's health minister said in a statement on Wednesday, though there was no indication they were linked to the country's previous - and ninth - Ebola outbreak in northwestern Equateur Province.

"Although we did not expect to face a tenth epidemic so early, the detection of the virus is an indicator of the proper functioning of the surveillance system," Health Minister Oly Ilunga said.

However, it might be impossible to use a vaccine to tackle the new outbreak, Peter Salama, a senior World Health Organization (WHO) official, said.

Yeah, that’s right: the vaccine that worked a miracle this past go-around with Ebola may not be able to do anything for anyone during the latest outbreak of the disease. Experts currently believe that the iteration of Ebola that Congo is currently facing could be one of three strains Zaire, Sudan or Bundibugyo. If it’s the Zaire strain of the disease? Party time: the vaccine developed by Merck should work a treat on it. Unfortunately, if one of the other two possible strains is responsible for the latest outbreak, The WHO admits that there may not be a vaccine option for them to undertake. Read the rest

Latest Ebola outbreak has come to an end

After three months and 33 deaths, the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been declared by the World Health Organization to have come to an end. The loss of 33 lives to the disease is absolutely tragic, but comes close to a miracle when you stop to consider the fact that the last time Ebola broke in West Africa, more than 11,000 people died. The high number of deaths in that instance was due to the fact that The WHO (not the one with Roger Daltrey,) was slow to react to the epidemic last time around, moving slowly to deploy medical resources to the regions that needed it the most. Additionally, no vaccine designed to fight the Ebola virus was put into play until near the end of the outbreak.

That wasn’t the case this time.

After being tongue lashed for dragging their ass during the last outbreak, The WHO sent specialists to Congo as soon as a handful of cases of Ebola were confirmed, back in May.

From the New York Times:

Even though Congo is familiar with Ebola — this was the country’s ninth outbreak since the disease first appeared in 1976 — more than 350 support personnel were deployed there. They included vaccinators from Guinea, where a novel Ebola vaccine was first field-tested.

The Congo outbreak marked the first in which an Ebola vaccine was readily available. In addition to giving injections to all front-line health care workers, experts used “ring vaccination” to protect all contacts of each person with the disease.

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Ebola keeps on keeping on

Hey gang, let's talk Ebola: Everyone's favorite viral boogeyman.

Over the weekend, the AFP News Agency reported that health professionals in the Democratic Republic of Congo have uncovered five new confirmed cases of Ebola: three cases in the Bikoro area and two in Wangata. This most recent outbreak of the disease in the country’s northwest has resulted in more than 50 confirmed cases and 25 deaths. These numbers, of course, only reflect the incidents of the disease that health agencies such as the World Health Organization and Medecins Sans Frontieres and DR Congo’s healthcare system are aware of.

As such, the push to track everyone who has come into contact with the disease and take appropriate precautions continues, albeit slowly. One of the biggest hurtles in tracking and containing Ebola is that, logistically, the rural regions of DR Congo are a pain in the ass. The roads are often so pocketed with potholes that the only way to reliable traverse them is with a motorcycle—and that’s if there are any roads at all. Many of the smaller villages surrounding Bikoro are packed away by dense jungle. Additionally, cellular coverage in the country’s northwestern region comes with massive holes. This makes doing important work, such as sending field operatives into areas of infection, shipping vaccines or sending collected data back for processing extremely difficult.

According to the New York Times, because of these difficulties, researchers are having a hard time piecing together how the current strain of the virus was transmitted. This, in turn, makes vaccinating the right people in the hopes of stopping the spread of the disease an uphill battle. Read the rest

Two late-stage Ebola patients break quarantine, the number they may have infected is unknown

Last week, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s latest Ebola outbreak was confirmed to have spread to Mbandaka, a transportation hub, home to over one million people. As of the time that this post was written, 31 cases of the disease have been confirmed in the west African nation. Of those confirmed to have been afflicted, nine have died.

Oh, and three individuals confirmed to have contracted the disease, two of which who were showing significant symptoms, managed to escape quarantine and mingle with an unknown number of people.

From the Washington Post:

In a briefing in Geneva, Jean-Clement Cabrol, a doctor who had just returned from Congo, said "the patients were in the active phase of the disease, vomiting" when their families removed them from the hospital, put them on motorcycles, and took them to a religious gathering of 50 people. Ebola is contagious through bodily fluids, and both patients, who were at an acute phase of the illness, died within hours.

Those two were among the three Ebola patients who left a hospital isolation ward and reentered the general population, according to the Doctors Without Borders mission in the Congolese city of Mbandaka.

That two of the patients, at the height of their power to infect others, opted to leave the quarantine that they’d been put under reads like something monstrous. But it couldn’t be more human. In their final hours, the pair, knowing that death couldn’t have been closer, turned to the comfort of their families and their faith, hoping that it would be a balm against the unspeakable misery that they must have been in. Read the rest

CBD is a non-psychoactive compound in marijuana that shows promise in epilepsy and pain therapy, so the DEA wants to class it with heroin

The World Health Organization's new report on cannabidiol (CBD) found that the compound (which does not produce any kind of high -- and may actually counteract the psychoactive properties of THC) is not addictive, has no potential for abuse, and shows promise in a number of medical trials. Read the rest

Tobacco giant Philip Morris is quietly funding an "anti-smoking" foundation offering $1 billion in "grants" to public health leaders

Derek Yach, president of The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, sent a letter to 344 public health researchers and groups inviting them to bid for grants from a $1b fund set up by tobacco giant -- the list was a roster of Yach's former colleagues from his stint at the World Health Organization. Read the rest