Ebola outbreak spreads to new city in conflict-hit Congo

Home to nearly one million people, Bunia is the latest Congolese city to report an Ebola infection. The patient is a six-month-old baby, but authorities are baffled that its parents "appear to be in good health."

The Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC's) Health Ministry on Wednesday confirmed a case of the deadly Ebola virus in Bunia, the second-largest city in the country's east with a population of nearly one million people.

The patient is a six-month-old baby. The Health Ministry said the parents "appear to be in good health." The ministry has launched an investigation to determine how the baby was infected.

Public health authorities have recorded very few cases of infected babies. Given that Ebola is often transmitted by infected blood or body fluids, health experts generally believe babies, infants and children contract the virus through breast milk or close contact with infected parents.

Read more: From Haiti to Madagascar: The world's forgotten crises

Public health authorities managed to largely prevent transmission of Ebola to newborn babies during the West Africa outbreak of 2014

Under attack

The DRC has been hit with the second-deadliest outbreak of Ebola, with more than 600 people killed by the virus since last August.

The worst outbreak was the 2013-16 epidemic in West Africa, which is believed to have killed more than 11,000 people.

Emergency response teams have had a difficult time, in part due to poor security in the region and community resistance to their work. Several Ebola treatment centers have been attacked by gunmen, prompting Doctors without Borders (MSF) to suspend its activities.

Ebola is a rare and highly infectious virus, with a death rate of up to 90 percent, according to the WHO. Symptoms include fever, intense weakness and vomiting. The incubation period range from two to 21 days.

Read more: DRC neighbors still on alert over Ebola virus

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Ebola: Fight against the deadly virus

Protective clothing

Proper protective clothing for doctors and nurses is critical. All exposed skin must be covered with a material that cannot be penetrated by the virus. But the suit alone isn't enough: Proper procedure is also important.

Ebola: Fight against the deadly virus

Suiting up

Health care workers must practice correctly putting on a protective suit, as seen here at the special isolation unit in Dusseldorf. New suits are used every time, so there is no risk of infection when getting dressed. Unprotected workers are therefore able to help.

Ebola: Fight against the deadly virus

Completely separate

The patient rooms in the Dusseldorf isolation unit are completely shielded from the outside world. Air is filtered, and wastewater must go through a separate treatment process. The protective suits, used at all times in the ward, are kept at positive pressure. These measures go further than is necessary: While Ebola can be transmitted by contaminated objects, the virus is not airborne.

Ebola: Fight against the deadly virus

Disinfectant shower

After the patient is treated, the entire suit is sprayed from the outside with a disinfectant to kill off any potential viruses. Only after this shower can the suit be removed - cautiously.

Ebola: Fight against the deadly virus

Outside help

When removing the protective suit, health care workers must exercise extreme caution. Using permanently installed protective gloves, outside assistance can be provided without coming into direct contact with the suit. After use, the suit is immediately disposed of and burned.

Ebola: Fight against the deadly virus

Infected nurses

Despite the high safety standards, a total of three nurses in Spain and the United States have contracted the disease. The circumstances surrounding the infection have not yet been clarified. The nurses' homes (as seen here in Texas) were sealed off and disinfected after the discovery of the transmission.

Ebola: Fight against the deadly virus

Protection in Africa

Doctors and nurses in West Africa have now also been outfitted with protective suits. However, these do not always meet the standards deemed necessary for effective protection. Sometimes, small areas of skin are left unprotected, or the material used in the suit is permeable. In addition, putting the suit on and removing it can be risky.

Ebola: Fight against the deadly virus

Isolating the dead

Extreme caution is also necessary at the funerals of people who have died of Ebola. A West African tradition, which sees the family of the deceased wash the body has led to many new infections. For mourning friends and family, these strict isolation measures are often hard to understand.

Ebola: Fight against the deadly virus

Tent as isolation units

In a region where medical care is extremely underdeveloped, such an outbreak provides a daunting challenge. Infected people, like here in Liberia, are cared for in hastily constructed tents. But even a country like Germany would probably be overwhelmed by such an epidemic. At the moment, the country only has around 50 beds set up in isolation units.

Ebola: Fight against the deadly virus

Incineration instead of sunlight

In some of the affected West African regions, contaminated suits are hung out in the sun in an attempt to disinfect them for further use. But it's much safer to burn the clothing immediately after use, as seen here in Guinea. However, supply shortages and the high prices of suits make such advice difficult to follow. Protective clothing can cost between €30 and €200 ($40-$250).

Ebola: Fight against the deadly virus

Airport controls

Air travelers represent the biggest threat when it comes to transmission of the virus over long distances. For this reason, travelers' temperatures are now being monitored at some airports. However, this method does not provide absolute security: Ebola's incubation period is up to 21 days.

ls/rc (Reuters, dpa)