Experts fear an “explosive increase” in Ebola cases after an outbreak in Congo entered a “new phase” and spread from the countryside to a city.
The BBC reports that Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga confirmed a case in Mbandaka, a city of a million people about 130km (80 miles) from the area where the first cases were confirmed earlier this month.
The city is a major transportation hub with routes to the capital Kinshasa.
Forty-four people have been infected and 23 people are known to have died.
Senior World Health Organization (WHO) official Peter Salama said the spread to Mbandaka meant there was the potential for an “explosive increase” in cases.
“This is a major development in the outbreak,” he told the BBC. “We have urban Ebola, which is a very different animal from rural Ebola. The potential for an explosive increase in cases is now there.”
Mr Salama, the WHO’s deputy director-general for emergency preparedness and response, said Mbandaka’s location on the Congo river, widely used for transportation, raised the prospect of Ebola spreading to surrounding countries such as Congo-Brazzaville and the Central African Republic as well as downstream to Kinshasa, a city of 10 million people.
“This puts a whole different lens on this outbreak and gives us increased urgency to move very quickly into Mbandaka to stop this new first sign of transmission,” he said.
The BBC adds that the WHO said it was not recommending any trade or travel restrictions either within DR Congo, for example between Mbandaka and Kinshasa, or internationally.
But Mr Salama said that 13 countries in the region were boosting border screening measures and said DR Congo itself was increasing exit screening measures.
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