The first case of Ebola in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo city, Goma, was discovered on Sunday, officials said, raising concerns the virus could spread quicker in a densely populated area close to the Rwandan border.
Goma, a lakeside city of 1 million people, is more than 350 km south of where the second-largest Ebola outbreak on record was first detected a year ago.
But the haemorrhagic fever has gradually spread south, infecting nearly 2,500 people and killing more than 1,600.
How Ebola spread to Goma
The patient was a priest who became infected during a visit to the town of Butembo, 200 km north of Goma, where he interacted with Ebola patients, Congo’s health ministry said in a statement.
He developed symptoms last week before taking a bus to Goma on Friday. When he arrived in Goma on Sunday he went to a clinic where he tested positive for Ebola.
“Due to the speed with which the patient has been identified and isolated, as well as the identification of all bus passengers from Butembo, the risk of spreading to the rest of the city of Goma remains low,” the ministry said.
Goma has been preparing for the arrival of Ebola for a year, setting up hand-washing stations and making sure motorcycle riders do not share helmets.
But in more rural areas, the virus has been hard to contain. Local mistrust of health officials and militia violence have hobbled containment efforts, and caused the number of new cases to spike.
Ebola causes diarrhea, vomiting and haemorrhagic fever and can be spread through bodily fluids. An epidemic between 2013 and 2016 killed more than 11,300 people in West Africa.
The first case of Ebola in Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern city of Goma is a potential game-changer in the scale of the outbreak, World Health Organization Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
Tedros said he was hopeful that there would be no further spread of the disease in the city, but he was convening the WHO’s emergency committee to decide if the outbreak now constituted an international health emergency.
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) July 15, 2019
An #Ebola Treatment Centre in Goma, #DRC, run by the @MinSanteRDC and @MSF, has been operational since February, and the person is now receiving care there. As part of the preparedness, 3000 #healthworkers have been vaccinated in this city alone. pic.twitter.com/68XNXckl0Z
— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) July 14, 2019