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DRC Suspected Ebola Cases Rise to 44

Efforts continue to contain the Ebola outbreak in the DRC’s Western Kasai Province. The epicenter of the outbreak is a village called Kaluamba, the scene of a previous outbreak in 2007. Thirteen deaths have been reported so far.

Dr. Michel Van Herp is with Doctors Without Borders. He is the head of mission in Kaluamba and spoke to VOA’s English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the current situation there.

“For today, we have 44 cases in the data base and among them we have 13 deaths. It’s clear that among the cases, we still need to…work to determine very well who are probable of (having) Ebola and who is not (infected with) Ebola,” he says.

Lab tests are currently underway to determine the exact number of Ebola cases and those tests cannot be done in the field.

“For the moment, the outbreak seems to be very localized.… It’s really the same village as September 2007, where we had an outbreak of Ebola,” he says.

Van Herp says that the current outbreak differs from last year’s in that alerts of a possible outbreak were filed much more quickly this year, and thus brought a quicker response. “We hope that the disease will remain in the same area and will not be exported outside the area where we work,” he says.

After initial reports of an Ebola outbreak are made, Doctors Without Borders sends an outreach team to the area to confirm those reports. If the outbreak is confirmed, sick people are either placed in isolation or special measures are taken to care for them in their homes. The latter is done if patients fear being placed in isolation. Health officials also need to know who the patients came in contact with and monitor those people for symptoms over the next 21 days.

Since there is no actual treatment for Ebola, what can be done to help patients? Van Herp says that placing them in isolation actually gives them a slightly better chance of surviving because doctors can treat some of the symptoms. Or, since Ebola is extremely painful, they can give patients medication “to ease their suffering.” Van Herp says that the medication also allows patients to die “with some dignity.”

The epidemiologist says more research will be done next to find the source of the initial infection. In the past in Kaluamba, the suspected source of Ebola was a dead animal or bat found in the bush.