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DR Congo has a new Ebola outbreak 10 days after its last—and a vaccine might not work this time

By Yomi Kazeem

Less than two weeks after the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) declared its ninth Ebola outbreak over, it has announced a tenth. And this time, a quick containment, which the country has become known for, might be more difficult.

The four new cases of the deadly disease have been confirmed in North Kivu, a northeastern province. Officials have already noted 26 cases of hemorrhagic fever in the area, 20 of which have resulted in deaths. The country’s health ministry says there’s no indication the current epidemic is linked to the ninth outbreak in the northwestern province which killed 33 people and was declared over on July 24.

Critically, WHO officials say rVSV-ZEBOV, a vaccine which proved instrumental in stopping DRC’s last outbreak, will not be applicable to the new outbreak unless it’s confirmed to be the same Zaire strain of the virus. If the Ebola strain proves to be Sudan or Bundibugyo, WHO says it will “have to look at more complex options.” That poses a problem as the vaccine was instrumental in stopping the ninth outbreak last month: more than 3,300 people were vaccinated to stop the spread of the epidemic.

During testing, rVSV-ZEBOV showed a 100% protection rate with thousands of people tested in Guinea all confirmed as virus-free within 10 days.

The location of the new outbreak could also prove a stumbling block as DRC’s northeast is home to several armed groups. As such, the necessary intense screening and tracking of possible contacts and cases in the region might not be possible as the safety of WHO and health ministry staff cannot be guaranteed.