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'Major game-changer': Ebola spreads to big Congo city

'Major game-changer': Ebola spreads to big Congo city

"What we're saying though is that urban Ebola is very different phenomenon to rural Ebola because we know that people in urban areas can have far more contacts so that means that urban Ebola can result in an exponential increase in cases in a way that rural Ebola struggles to do". Helicopter and motorcycle are the only ways to reach Bikoro from Mbandaka, but an airstrip has been rapidly cleared for small planes to land with supplies.

World Health Organization has also confirmed that the current outbreak is the same strain of the virus that broke out in West Africa in 2013 and went on to kill more than 11,300 people, the deadliest ever Ebola epidemic.

The announcement came from the office of the Congo's health minister late Wednesday night after it was learned that there was a single case of Ebola reported in Mbandaka, a densely populated city just under 100 miles from the site of the last reported case.

Mbandaka had three suspected cases in addition to the confirmed case.

Another 21 people have been, or continue to be, held in quarantine because they are suspected to have contracted the virus, Ilunga added, though medical tests have yet to confirm Ebola infection.

This is a major development in the outbreak.

A panel will decide on Friday whether to declare a "public health emergency of worldwide concern", which would trigger a larger response.

WHO said health workers had identified 430 people who may have had contact with the disease and were working to trace more than 4,000 contacts of Ebola patients who had spread across north-west DR Congo.

"The remote location of the outbreak hampers both the information about the outbreak and interventions to control it", said Cyrus Shahpar, director of epidemic prevention at Resolve to Save Lives, a New York-based organisation.

Mbandaka is about 120 kilometers north of Bikoro, a rural area where the outbreak was first detected.

That challenge amplifies greatly in urban environments where people move around more and have more contact with others than in the countryside.

"Medical teams have been rushing to track down anyone thought to have had contact with infected people", says Time magazine, "while World Health Organization is shipping thousands of doses of an experimental vaccine".

More than 11,000 people died in an Ebola outbreak that plagued the western African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea for about 2 years from 2014.

He said the disease could have been taken there by people who attended the funeral of an Ebola victim in Bikoro, the south of Mbandaka, before travelling to the city.

The experimental vaccine has been shown to be highly effective against Ebola.

Ebola, which can cause multiple organ failure, is passed from human to human by contact through the mouth, nose, or broken skin with blood or other bodily fluids of those infected.

This is the ninth Ebola outbreak in Congo since 1976, when the deadly disease was first identified. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and at times internal and external bleeding.

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