UN preparing for possible spread of Ebola into South Sudan

An outbreak of the virus could head toward the fledgling nation and officials want to take preventative measures

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In the midst of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s worst Ebola outbreak ever, the United Nations and neighboring South Sudan are taking extreme precautions to prevent the spread of the disease.

An outbreak of the virus has killed nearly 300 people since August. Bloomberg is reporting that the U.N. and local authorities have made “a huge number of preparatory steps,” including border-screenings, training health teams and bringing in vaccines for health-workers on the front-lines.

READ MORE: Uganda, at high risk for Ebola, starts vaccinating medics

“We all hope that it doesn’t come close to South Sudan, but it’s up to us to be prepared just in case the unlikely thing happens,” David Shearer, the head of the U.N. mission in South Sudan, said.

He added that the outbreak is “still not completely under control,” but there’s no indication it’s an immediate threat to South Sudan. The outbreak comes as the country is emerging from five years of civil war.

In August, neighboring Uganda opened a number of treatment centers along the border to help contain the outbreak. According to the World Health Organization, more than one million refugees and internally displaced people are in North Kivu and Ituri, and they pose a potential risk factor for the spread of Ebola.

The disease spreads through contact with bodily fluids and causes hemorrhagic fever, severe vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding. The current Congolese outbreak is the country’s 10th since 1976 and is the worst since the West African outbreak that killed nearly 11,000 people 2014 and 2016.

READ MORE: Report says nearly 400,000 ‘excess deaths’ in South Sudan

“If the population is aware of what Ebola is and how it is spread, then there shouldn’t be much risk to everybody,” Shearer said. “But obviously if things get closer, we will look at bringing in more vaccines at that point.”