The World Health Organization (WHO) says seven more people in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been infected with the Ebola virus, warning that the outbreak of the lethal disease in the central African country has a clear “potential to expand”.
“We are on the epidemiological knife edge,” Peter Salama, WHO Deputy Director-General for Emergency Preparedness and Response, told a special meeting on Wednesday.
“The next few weeks will really tell if this outbreak is going to expand to urban areas or if we are going to be able to keep it under control,” he added.
The WHO on Wednesday declared that seven new cases of Ebola were reported in DR Congo, and raised the number of cases to 58 since the outbreak was declared earlier this month, of which 27 have been deaths.
The Ebola outbreak was first reported in rural northwestern DR Congo in a remote northwestern location called Bikoro on May 8.
Last Thursday, the first urban case was detected in the city of Mbandaka. The agency said seven cases have surfaced in Mbandaka districts so far.
“An urban case means that it can spread quickly. That is another challenge,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told Wednesday’s special session during the agency’s annual World Health Assembly.
The WHO also expressed concern about the possible spread of the outbreak to neighboring countries.
“They are connected, they are very close, and that is another challenge that makes the problem really serious,” Adhanom said.
Meanwhile, Salama cited another concerning factor which is the infection in healthcare workers as five of the infected are health personnel.
“That is a tragedy in its own right, but it also signals the potential for further amplification,” he said.
The Ebola virus can be fatal as a result of damages it does on blood vessels which causes internal and external bleeding.