Report finds responsive research, innovative technology, training critical to controlling DRC Ebola outbreak

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Potential for spread, effective intervention highlighted importance of building local capacities

The Democratic Republic of Congo had experienced eight previous Ebola virus outbreaks when the most recent emergence of the disease was confirmed there in early May, and hard-earned lessons from the past supplied much of the knowledge that drove the swift response that followed. But access to a diagnostic tool that could rapidly confirm the strain of the virus, and people trained to use it made a crucial difference, and enabled the deployment for the first time of a vaccine, as well as a strategy from the start, according to a report in Clinical Infectious Diseases.

The distribution of the outbreak in two exceedingly remote areas and one well-populated city, as well as the proximity of all of those to the Congo River, posed challenges, as well as possibilities of uncontrolled and cross-border spread of the virus, unprecedented in any of the nation’s previous outbreaks, the authors of the report, led by Placide Mbala Kingebeni of the National Institute of Biomedical Research in Kinshasa, note.

That made a vaccination strategy, and validation that it would work on the strain of virus circulating critical, the authors write. Producing highly specific same day results, a  portable MinION diagnostic tool first used during the West Africa Ebola outbreak identified the strain of the virus, and provided the needed information within 10 days of the national health department’s May 8 declaration of an outbreak, the report says. In the time since, more than a thousand people, including health workers, people who had contact with Ebola patients and their contacts have been vaccinated, effectively creating a protective barrier around known sources of transmission, according to the report. The benefits gleaned by those interventions illustrate the importance of ready and trained access to innovative diagnostic technologies, the authors write.

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