Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo are racing to contain an Ebola epidemic, after a gold miner with a large family contaminated several people in the east’s main city of Goma before dying of the haemorrhagic fever. The DRC government is quoted in Reuters Africa as saying that the wife of the miner had tested positive for the disease – the fourth case confirmed in Goma, more than 350 km south of where the outbreak was first detected, raising fears of an acceleration in infections close to the border with Rwanda.
“The gold miner … will have contaminated several people, but for the moment it is only his wife and one of his ten children who are sick,” the DRC’s response co-ordinator, Jean-Jacques Muyembe said. The man himself had died of the virus earlier this week and only sought treatment more than a week after starting to show symptoms. A sister of that same miner who had travelled to the DRC’s South Kivu province was swiftly identified and brought back to Goma, Muyembe said.
The government said one of the couple’s daughters has also tested positive for Ebola. Two other daughters were negative in preliminary checks. A spokesperson for the DRC’s Ebola response team, Giscard Kusema, said in Goma that of the 300 primary and secondary contacts of the miner so far identified, 240 had been vaccinated. Two of the Ebola patients who were caught early are doing well.
The report says Goma, a city of at least 1m people, lies nestled among hills and an active volcano bordering Rwanda – whose authorities briefly shut the border in panic on Thursday, against advice from health officials.
Two people have died in Uganda, which also borders Congo, further north.
Only about 50% of cases of Ebola in the DRC are being identified, and BBC News reports Muyembe warned that the current deadly outbreak could last up to three years. Cases in Goma earlier prompted the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare the outbreak as an emergency of international concern.
The city is the capital of North Kivu, one of the two provinces in DRC which have borne the brunt of the epidemic. The city lies just across the border from the Rwandan city of Gisenyi, which has a population of about 85,000 people. Many residents cross the frontier for work and other activities, although illegal routes are also used.
The report says efforts to control the outbreak have been hampered by violence against healthcare workers and Ebola treatment facilities. Seven people have been killed and 58 injured in 198 attacks this year.