The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has spread to a large city, with officials holding an emergency meeting.
So far this week, three cases of Ebola were confirmed in the northwestern city of Mbandaka, which has a population of 1 million, The Guardian reported. On Friday, May 18, two cases were confirmed.
“It is very concerning. It’s a big city. We are all doing everything we can but nonetheless with Ebola there are always surprises,” said Jean-Jacques Muyenbe, the director general of the DRC’s National Institute for Biomedical Research. He told the Guardian that “the situation had evolved overnight with the confirmation of two new cases.”
The U.N. World Health Organization (WHO) described the spread of Ebola to a city as a “major, major game changer,” meaning that the outbreak could rapidly hasten.
In total, 25 people have likely died of Ebola in Congo, and 45 cases have been confirmed. Most of the deaths have taken place in the area of Bikoro, a rural area around 95 miles from Mbandaka.
Mbandaka is located on the Congo River, for which the country—the 11th largest in the world by area—is named. The river is a major transport route throughout the country, and it goes into the capital, Kinshasa.
“We estimate that more than 300 people might have been in direct or indirect contact with individuals contaminated with the Ebola virus in Mbandaka,” a doctor in the city was quoted by The Guardian as saying.
And there were some signs of panic in Mbandaka.
“I’m looking for a boat to leave,” said Constantine Boketshu, a woman who lives there. “If the authorities have allowed the disease to arrive here, we all risk being killed … because hygiene is bad.”
This week, the first batch of 4,000 experimental Ebola vaccines has been deployed to the capital, Kinshasa. The Health Ministry said vaccinations would start at the weekend, the first time the vaccine would come into use since it was developed two years ago, Reuters reported.
The vaccine, developed by Merck and sent from Europe by the World Health Organization, is still not licensed but proved effective during limited trials in West Africa in the biggest ever outbreak of Ebola, which killed 11,300 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone from 2014-2016, Reuters reported.
“Our current estimate is we need to vaccinate around 8,000 people, so we are sending 8,000 doses in two lots,” he told Reuters in Geneva. “Over the next few days we will be reassessing the projected numbers of cases that we might have and then if we need to bring in more vaccine we will do so in a very short notice.”
Reuters contributed to this report.