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Ebola outbreak in Congo could be slowing down — for now

While the fourth deadliest Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues — and still has the potential to explode domestically and beyond its border — there may be signs of a slowdown.

Data: Ministry of Health DRC; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

What's new: The DRC Ministry of Health announced Thursday that 9 people have been cured. As of Aug. 22, the total number of suspected cases topped 100, but only 13 people were being investigated. However, experts warn that it is too early to say if the outbreak has reached its peak.

"We're not out of the woods yet. ... You'll know when an outbreak has peaked when any new cases can be traced back to someone you already knew was infected."
— Julie E. Fischer, director, Elizabeth R. Griffin Program, Georgetown University Medical Center

"We'll know in a couple of weeks if the ring vaccination, positive communication [and experimental therapies] worked," Fischer tells Axios.

The problem with this particular outbreak, Fischer says, is the difficulty health care workers have in reaching possibly infected people in conflict areas. And, this is compounded by DRC's wide range of languages and cultural differences, leading to demand for multilingual medical workers who can negotiate the different local customs.

  • But, despite these obstacles, health officials from DRC, the World Health Organization and numerous other organizations have done a "great job" of hunting down possible infections, Fischer says. She points to WHO's statement that officials believe they have been able to trace 95% of infections.

What's happening now, according to releases from DRC's Ministry of Health Aug. 21-23:

  • DRC administered 2,613 experimental rVSV-ZEBOV vaccinations to those believed to have come into contact with infected persons or who are at the highest risk.
  • Beginning Aug. 11, health officials started distributing experimental treatment mAb114 to 10 patients, with positive results so far.
  • On Aug. 21, another experimental treatment, Remdesivir, was given to a patient in Beni's Ebola treatment center (CTE) and that person is "doing well," the ministry said.
  • DRC's Ethics Committee approved three other experimental treatments — Zmapp, favipiravir, and Regn3450-3471-3479, which will be distributed to the CTEs.

Editor's note: This piece was updated with the latest information from DRC's Ministry of Health, updating all the numbers and adding the 9 people cured.

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