A veteran doctor, who was previously involved in an endeavor to contain a Marburg virus outbreak in a region of the DRC similar to the current one, suggested that there are similarities between the two situations in having to contend with armed groups creating volatility and insecurity. He feels that the current North Kivu Ebola epidemic is “a little bit of uncharted waters” with an area much larger than the earlier Marburg incident with a complicated refugee issue.
To date, the WHO’s “rapid assessment group” has permitted only one of its team members to deploy to the North Kivu region of the DRC. Only a limited number of additional personnel are likely to be included in the containment effort going forward because of the difficulty of protecting the responders.
Cumulatively, the containment of the North Kivu Ebola outbreak will be a milestone effort given the multiple issues hampering the WHO intervention. The stymying factors include the limited number of medical personnel allowed to be dispatched, the precarious security situation that the doctors and peacekeepers will be operating under, and the difficulty in tracking infected persons with the increased numbers of refugees fleeing the violence.
Furthermore, the prior epidemic spanning 2014 to 2016 showed that recent strains of the Ebolavirus take longer to incubate post-infection (double the normal incubation period of 21 days), making the isolation of infected individuals that much more difficult. Additionally, there are indications that a reservoir of the virus can persist in the sexual fluids of infected individuals for even longer than 42 days. The deputy director of the WHO’s emergency preparedness and response group fears that the disease could spread to neighboring Rwanda and Uganda and that the scenario is one that “keeps me up at night.”