As the Democratic Republic of Congo fights against the rapid spread of the Ebola virus with an experimental vaccine, officials are concerned about an unnecessary exposure to the disease after two patients were taken from a Congo hospital to a prayer meeting, according to Reuters.
Dozens of other people potentially might have contracted the highly contagious and deadly illness when their relatives took them from the hospital to the meeting in the city of Mbandaka, a port city on the Congo River. Aid workers said the patients were violently ill when they were hauled off. They died hours after the prayer session, but a third patient who also left the hospital survived.
“The escape was organized by the families, with six motorcycles as the patients were very ill and couldn’t walk,” Dr. Jean-Clement Cabrol, emergency medical coordinator for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), said to a news briefing in Geneva, Switzerland.
“They were taken to a prayer room with 50 people to pray. They were found at two in the morning, one of them dead and one was dying. So that’s 50-60 contacts right there. The patients were in the active phase of the disease, vomiting.”
Health officials are trying to trace the route the motorcyclists took said Dr. Peter Salama, head of emergency response at the World Health Organization (WHO), told Reuters on Thursday.
“From the moment that they escaped, the (health) ministry, WHO and partners have been following very closely every contact,” he said.
“All it takes is one sick person to travel down the Congo River and we can have outbreaks seeded in many different locations . . . that can happen at any moment, it’s very hard to predict,” he said, referring to the river linking the trading hub of Mbandaka to the capital Kinshasa, whose population is 10 million.
“It is going to be at least weeks and more likely months before we get this outbreak fully under control,” Salama said.
The Democratic Republic of Congo was the first region to receive an experimental Ebola vaccine that health officials believe will cease the spread of the infectious virus.
According to WHO, 27 people have died in and Ebola outbreak. Some 8,000 to 10,000 people will first receive the vaccine. The vaccine will also be given to people who have come in contact with those infected.
Those infected with Ebola can suffer from severe internal bleeding, fever, diarrhea and vomiting. The disease is spread through contact with infected body fluids.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now the DRC. Since then, the virus has been infecting people from in various periods of time, leading to outbreaks in several African countries.