WASHINGTON - A small outbreak of Ebola virus in Democratic Republic of the Congo is causing alarm among public health officials. A new study outlining containment strategies may help prevent an epidemic similar to the one that engulfed a number of western African countries two years ago.
In the timely report, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an international team of researchers culled 37 studies for the most effective containment strategies.
Pennsylvania State University biology professor Katriona Shea, co-author of the study, said, "The best strategy that we found out of the five that we looked at were funeral containment and public information campaigns [for the] sort of care in the community."
Ebola virus is spread through coming into contact with the bodily fluids of infected individuals.
Shea said investigators found the No. 1 way to prevent transmission was for loved ones to avoid washing bodies of the deceased prior to burial.
Shea said that information is best conveyed through public health campaigns that also stress the importance of handwashing, personal hygiene and self-quarantine in high-transmission areas.
Don't wait to get treatment
People suspected of being infected with Ebola, the report found, should also not hesitate to go to the hospital or clinic for evaluation and treatment. But researchers concluded building more hospitals in response to an epidemic to be the least effective way to prevent spread of Ebola within communities.
Shea said investigators undertook the study in response to the Ebola epidemic of 2014-2015, when 28,646 people became infected. Of these, 11,323 people died in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone died as of March 2016, according to the report.
Forty cases of the disease were also reported in the DRC.
Using the prevention strategies outlined in the study and the incidence data from the epidemic, researchers estimated that there would have been a reduction of 3,266 cases of Ebola and 1,633 lives saved.
No consensus on containment
At the height of the epidemic, Shea said there was no consensus on the best ways to contain the Ebola epidemic, and that's why researchers decided to look into the matter.
"We really wanted to try to do something. Many of us have children, and were moved by stories, individual horrors and so forth," she said. "Others of us felt something we did scientifically might contribute to making the future outbreaks less horrific."
There are now three confirmed Ebola deaths in a remote part of the DRC. Public health officials are reportedly investigating a total of nine suspicious cases of the deadly viral infection.
With the virus once again threatening to become a public health menace, Shea said it's not too early to begin taking aggressive measures to prevent another Ebola epidemic.