GENEVA - The World Health Organization (WHO) says people diagnosed with Ebola must be kept isolated to prevent the spread of the highly contagious disease. The WHO has updated the number of Ebola cases since the outbreak started in the Democratic Republic of Congo on May 8, confirming 31 of 52 probable and suspected cases, including 22 deaths.
The escape of two Ebola patients earlier this week from a treatment center in Mbandaka, a city of more than one million people, has raised fears of a rapid spread of the disease. The families of the patients reportedly helped them leave.
World Health Organization spokesman Tarik Jasarevic called the incident very unfortunate, but not unexpected.
"It is only human that people want to be with their loved ones and family want them to be at home in what could be the last moments of life," he said. "… Keeping a sick person at home not only decreases the chances of survival for this person, because this person is not receiving supportive treatment. It is also putting at risk the whole family."
Ebola is highly contagious. The virus is transmitted through direct contact with infected bodily fluids. The fatality rate is between 20 percent and 90 percent.
Jasarevic said it is important to improve efforts to engage with communities so they understand how the virus is spread and how they can protect themselves from becoming infected.
"People who fall sick go to an isolation unit and receive treatment because that treatment will significantly increase their chances of survival," he said. "…Getting IV fluids, getting antibiotics as a supportive means, if necessary, is something that reduces the risk of that."
Jasarevic said it is important to trace every person who has come into contact with an Ebola patient. Those who have been identified are likely to receive an experimental vaccine that has shown good protective qualities, he added.
Since a vaccination campaign began on Monday, he said 154 people have been inoculated. They include high risk health workers and some particularly vulnerable people from local communities in Mbandaka.