Fears mount as Ebola reported in DR Congo city

Health care workers wearing protective suits

Health care workers wearing protective suits

A total of 45 cases of hemorrhagic fever have now been reported, including 25 deaths, the health ministry said Thursday.

Peter Salama, from the World Health Organisation, described the confirmation of an urban case, the first in nine ebola outbreaks in the DRC, as "a game changer".

"The confirmed case in Mbandaka, a large urban centre located on major national and global river, road and domestic air routes increases the risk of spread within the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to neighbouring countries", the World Health Organization said.

Until now, the cases and deaths were reported from the rural Bikoro health zone, almost 150 kilometers from Mbandaka, allowing authorities to attempt ring-fencing vaccinations in the the affected areas.

"If we don't, then the virus may spread too far and too quickly", Ben Adinoyi, the Red Cross's regional healthcare chief, said in a statement.

The aid organization said 514 people believed to have been in contact with infected people are being monitored.

The outbreak previously appeared to be confined to the Ikoko Impenge area, near the town of Bikoro, in the central African nation's Equateur Province.

Ebola is a highly infectious and often fatal disease. "Now that we are facing the Ebola virus we must use all the resources we have".

The outbreak in West Africa that started in 2014 reached epidemic proportions and was the worst ever recorded, infecting more than 28,000 and killing more than 11,000.

Downstream from Mbandaka is the country's capital, Kinshasa, which is home to roughly 10 million people.

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"Local volunteers and health workers are the community's alarm system", said Ben Adinoyi, who heads the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies' health unit for Africa.

However, according to him, now the health authorities "there is more money than before, to fight Ebola". "We have urban Ebola, which is a very different animal from rural Ebola".

Isolation zones have been set up in Mbandaka's main hospital as well as Bikoro hospital, with more Ebola treatment centers being set up in Mbandaka and Bikoro.

He said the disease could have been taken there by people who attended the funeral of an Ebola victim in Bikoro, the south of Mbandaka, before travelling to the city.

The WHO is sending 7,540 experimental vaccines to DRC, 4,300 of which have already arrived in the capital, Kinshasa, as part of a coordinated response to the outbreak.

How "experimental" is this Ebola vaccine? Keeping it stored at a temperature where it's most effective - between -60 and -80 decrees Celsius (-76 and -112 degrees Fahrenheit) - is another.

Many of these people were in remote areas, Salama said.

The UN agency has been working with the Ministry of Health and Médecins Sans Frontières to conduct the ring fence vaccinations across the affected areas - where contacts of those infected, followed by contacts of those contacts, would all be vaccinated.

Getting the Ebola vaccine to those who need it won't be easy, though.

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