Ebola spreads to major Congo city as vaccines to concern

DAKAR, Senegal – The second largest Ebola outbreak in history, as many health problems as the experimental vaccine will stand up.

Butembo, with more than 1 million residents, is now reporting cases of the deadly hemorrhagic fever. That complicates Ebola containment work already challenged by rebel attacks elsewhere that have been tracking the virus almost impossible in some isolated villages.

"We are very concerned by the epidemiological situation in the Butembo area," said John Johnson, project coordinator with Medecins Sans Frontieres in the city. The medical charity said. New cases are increasing rapidly in the eastern suburbs.

The outbreak declared on Aug. 1 is now second only to the devastating West Africa outbreak that killed more than 11,300 people a few years ago. There are currently 471 Ebola cases, of which 423 are confirmed, including 225 confirmed deaths, Congo's health ministry said late Thursday.

With the teams vaccinated more than 41,000 people know how to do, this outbreak could have seen more than 10,000 Ebola cases, the health ministry said.

Ebola vaccine, which is owned by Merck. The company keeps a stockpile of 300,000 doses, and preparing them takes months.

"We are extremely concerned about the size of the stockpile vaccine," WHO's emergencies director, Dr. Peter Salama, told the STAT media outlet in an interview this week, saying 300,000 doses is not enough as urban Ebola outbreaks become more common.

Communities in the "ring vaccination" approach, but in some cases, all communities of hard-to-reach communities have been offered. The prospect of a mass vaccination in Butembo has raised concerns. Salama called the approach "extremely impractical."

A WHO spokesman said shipments of doses arrived at a sufficient supply for the ring vaccination. "No interruptions of vaccine supply to date," Tarik Jasarevic said in an email to The Associated Press. "Merck is actively working to ensure sufficient number of doses to be available to meet the potential demand."

This ebola outbreak is like no other, with deadly attacks by rebel groups. Some wary locals have resisted vaccinations or safe burials of Ebola victims as health workers battle misinformation in a region that has never encountered the virus before.

A "fringe population" has regularly destroyed medical equipment and attacked workers, Dr. Oly Ilunga Kalenga's Health Minister told reporters on Wednesday.

The Ebola virus is spread via bodily fluids of those infected, including the dead.

The outbreak "remains serious and unpredictable," the World Health Organization said in an assessment released Wednesday. Nine health zones have been reported in the last week.

Thousands of people have been organized by Red Cross societies and others to go house-to-house.

Dr. Fatoumata Nafo-Traore, Africa regional director for the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, joined in the outbreak's epicenter, Beni, this week.

The head of a family, who did not even have a radio and did not understand what was happening. "Ignorance is the enemy," another resident said.

Nafo-Traore told the AP.

While she called the insecurity "very worrying," she said that with new tools at hand, including vaccines, "there is great hope."

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Anna reported from Johannesburg.

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