The ministry of health in the Democratic Republic of the Congo announced Sunday that it identified a new case of Ebola in its North Kivu Province in the eastern part of the country — seven months after the country’s longest outbreak of the disease ended in the same region. The previous outbreak lasted nearly two years and cost 2,299 lives.
The case was the wife of an Ebola survivor. She sought treatment at a local health center and has since died in Butembo town.
Why it matters: This new case is not unexpected. Survivors can harbor the virus in bodily fluids such as semen, so systems were in place to monitor survivors following the declaration of the end of the outbreak last June. There are 1,162 survivors from the previous outbreak.
But the news is still alarming because the previous outbreak was incredibly hard to contain. The response took place in an active conflict zone and was marred by community resistance and violence against health workers.
What’s changed: Health responders learned from errors in the early response in eastern DRC and used these lessons to create a more effective response in a more recent outbreak in Équateur province which ended in November after six months, with 119 confirmed cases and 55 deaths.
Because of the challenges, duration and size of the outbreak, the region now has strong capacity to respond to the disease, according to the World Health Organization.
“The expertise and capacity of local health teams has been critical in detecting this new Ebola case and paving the way for a timely response,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, in a press release.
The approval of an Ebola vaccine by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in October also means responders are now able to deploy vaccines to probable contacts rather than just confirmed contacts.
What to watch: Health workers have identified over 70 contacts of the woman, who will be monitored for symptoms to see if this one positive case turns into a broader outbreak.