WHO says Congo faces "very high" risk from Ebola outbreak

Congolese Health Ministry officials carry the first batch of experimental Ebola vaccines in Kinshasa Democratic Republic of Congo

"We have urban Ebola, which is a very different animal from rural Ebola".

The outbreak previously appeared to be confined to the Ikoko Impenge area, near the town of Bikoro, in the central African nation's Equateur Province.

Congo's Ebola outbreak has spread to a crossroads city of more than 1 million people in a troubling turn that marks the first time the vast, impoverished country has encountered the lethal virus in an urban area.

Mbandaka had three suspected cases in addition to the confirmed case. "If we don't, then the virus may spread too far and too quickly".

WHO Deputy Director-General for Emergency Preparedness and Response Peter Salama had told reporters on Thursday that the risk assessment was being reviewed.

A panel will decide on Friday whether to declare a "public health emergency of global concern", which would trigger a larger response. That number includes 14 confirmed cases of Ebola, 21 probable cases and 10 suspected cases.

A new suspected case of Ebola was recorded this week in Wangata, one of the three health zones of Mbandaka, the capital of the northwestern Equateur province.

Doctors Without Borders, or MSF as its often called by its French acronym, said it too is stepping up its response to stop the spread of the current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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Ebola is notoriously hard to contain, though recent outbreaks in Congo have been managed swiftly by the World Health Organization and Congolese health officials, gaining the government there a reputation as one of the continent's most prepared.

Until now, the cases and deaths were reported from the rural Bikoro health zone, almost 150 kilometers from Mbandaka, allowing authorities to attempt ring-fencing vaccinations in the the affected areas.

Mbandaka, a city of nearly 1.2 million, is in a busy travel corridor in Congo's northwest Equateur province and is upstream from the capital, Kinshasa, a city of about 10 million.

The WHO is also deploying 30 experts to Mbandaka to "conduct surveillance in the city and is working with the Ministry of Health and partners to engage with communities on prevention and treatment and the reporting of new cases".

While there is no specific treatment for the deadly disease, which has a 90 percent fatality rate, World Health Organization has shipped thousands of doses of an experimental vaccine to the region.

They work backwards from each infected person, figuring out everyone they might have come in contact with and monitoring those individuals for any sign at all of infection.

The vaccine, from pharmaceutical firm Merck, is unlicensed but was effective in limited trials during the West Africa outbreak. It involves vaccinating contacts of those feared infected, contacts of those contacts, and health care and other front-line workers.

This is the ninth Ebola outbreak in Congo since 1976, when the deadly disease was first identified. The virus can be fatal in up to 90 percent of cases, depending on the strain.

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