WHO has decided that it is "time for the world to take notice" of the epidemic in the DRC, which has killed 1,676 since August 1, 2018.

 

A Congolese health worker administers the experimental Ebola vaccine to a child at the Himbi Health Center in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, on July 17, 2019.

 

Ebola, declared Wednesday, July 17 as a global health "emergency" by the World Health Organization (WHO) because of the ongoing epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is a formidable virus for humans, its epidemics have totalled about 15,000 deaths since 1976.

When did he appear?
The Ebola virus was identified for the first time in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, Zaire at the time). This filovirus virus (filovirus) is named after a river in the north of the country, near which the first outbreak erupted.

Five separate "subtypes" of Ebola virus have since been reported: Zaire, Sudan, Bundibugyo, Reston and Taï Forest. The first three are responsible for major epidemics on the African continent.

The virus circulates among fruit-eating bats, considered to be the natural host of Ebola, but they do not develop the disease. Other mammals such as great apes, antelopes or porcupines can convey it and transmit it to humans.

How is it transmitted?
During an epidemic, Ebola is transmitted between humans through direct and close contact. A healthy person is contaminated by the "body fluids" of a sick person: blood, vomit, faeces... Unlike the flu, this virus can not be transmitted by air. Ebola is less infectious than many other viral diseases.

But this virus is formidable because of its very high "fatality rate": it kills on average about half of the people it reaches, according to WHO.

What are the symptoms?
After an incubation period of two to twenty-one days (on average around five days), Ebola is manifested by a sudden fever, with severe weakness, muscle and joint pain, headache and throat and, in some cases, bleeding. Sequelae have been common among survivors: arthritis, vision problems, eye inflammation and hearing problems.

Are there treatments?
There is currently no vaccine or marketed treatment for Ebola, but several leads are being tested. An experimental vaccine was developed as a result of the devastating Ebola outbreak that hit West Africa between late 2013 and 2016, causing more than 11,300 deaths.

A large-scale trial conducted by WHO in Guinea in 2015 showed that it was highly protective, but only against one of the virus strains. The same vaccine is currently used in a targeted vaccination campaign in the DRC where an epidemic has been raging since August 2018.

What other epidemics have we known?
Part of southern Guinea in December 2013, the most violent epidemic in history had made until January 2016 more than 11,300 deaths for about 29,000 cases, according to the WHO. Victims were more than 99 per cent concentrated in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

The current outbreak in DRC started on 1 st August 2018 in North Kivu province before spreading. Two cases were recorded in June in Uganda and a first case in July in the country's second-largest city, Goma.

The latest WHO report for this epidemic reports 1,676 deaths for 2,512 cases. This is the tenth epidemic that affects Congolese soil and the second most serious in Africa after that of 2013-2016 in West Africa.