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  1. ITV Report

The struggle to contain the world's second-largest outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the second largest in history and it shows no sign of being contained any time soon.

The virus has infected more than 2,000 and killed 1,367 people as of June 5 2019, according to the World Health Organisation.

The outbreak declared almost ten months ago is behind the 2014-2016 epidemic that affected West Africa’s Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, killing more than 11,300 people.

A health care worker wears virus protective gear at a treatment centre in Bikoro, Democratic Republic of Congo. Credit: AP

Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals.

Fruit bats are thought to be the main host of the disease but it can also be introduced by chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys and porcupines found ill or dead or in the rain-forests.

The virus has been traced back to two simultaneous outbreaks in 1976, where 151 people died in South Sudan, and 280 in the Yambuku area near the Ebola river - from which the disease takes its name.

The World Health Organization said last month that the most recent Ebola outbreak remained contained to eastern Congo even as the number of cases rises in a dense, highly mobile population near the border with Uganda and Rwanda.

British medical workers who helped with the Ebola outbreak in Africa. Credit: AP

How long will it take to contain DRC?

Security continues to be a crisis surrounding the Ebola outbreak.

The country’s health minister said as hostility toward health workers continues to hamper efforts to contain the virus.

A volatile security situation and deep community mistrust have hampered efforts to control the epidemic in eastern Congo.

Ebola treatment centres have come under repeated attack, leaving government health officials to staff clinics in the hotspots of Butembo and Katwa.

International aid organisations stopped their work in the two communities because of the violence.

A volatile security situation has hampered efforts to control the epidemic in eastern Congo. Credit: ITV News

A spokesman for the World Health Organisation has told ITV News the violence and security situation is holding back treatments.

He said: "We’re having security incidents every week, some minor, some major.

"Every time there is a major incident, it sets back the response, anything from one to three weeks.

"If we can’t get access to the communities, we can’t vaccinate people, we can’t treat those who fall ill, and we can’t trace contacts. This means that the virus continues to spread."

In May, the UK Government announced that new aid funds would be provided to the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) to help carry out safe and dignified burials.

Bodies of Ebola victims are particularly infectious, with transmission of the disease often occurring at funerals where people help wash their loved ones before interment.

How many outbreaks have there been until now?

  • 2014-2015 - Linked Ebola outbreaks in the US, UK, Mali, Nigeria, Italy, Spain and Senegal
  • 2014-2016 - West Africa epidemic - the first case traced back to a 2-year-old boy in the remote Guinean village of Meliandou fell ill with a mysterious illness characterized by fever, black stools, and vomiting.
  • 2017-2018 - Ebola outbreaks across Congo and a Marburg virus outbreak in Kween district, eastern Uganda.

What is Ebola?

  • Ebola is a virus that initially causes sudden fever, intense weakness, muscle pain and a sore throat.
  • It can leave sufferers vomiting, diarrhoea and both internal and external bleeding.
  • Patients tend to die from dehydration and multiple organ failure.
Doctors are still trialling medicines to cure the virus. Credit: ITV News

How can you get Ebola?

  • The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads through human-to-human transmission.
  • People are infected when they have direct contact through broken skin, or the mouth and nose, with the blood, vomit, faeces or bodily fluids of someone with Ebola.

How can you treat Ebola?

  • Drugs and vaccines are still at an experimental stage.
  • Patients are often isolated and treated by medical staff wearing full protective body suits who try to boost their immune response.
  • Patients have their temperatures taken every day, because a rise beyond 37.5C is the first sign of infection.
  • Prevention measures include washing hands regularly, safe burial practices, with no touching or washing of the body, as is traditional in some cultures.