In a rare occurrence, an Ebola patient in the Democratic Republic of Congo has relapsed and fallen ill for the second time after having been cured of the deadly virus, according to Reuters.
Congolese health workers documented the phenomenon earlier this month when a survivor in Mabalako began exhibiting symptoms of the virus again.
After conducting preliminary testing, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced confirmation of the relapse on Friday, making this the first relapse case in the Congolese Ebola outbreak on record since it began in April 2017.
“Rare cases of relapse — in which a person who has recovered from EVD (Ebola) gets disease symptoms again — have been documented during past outbreaks, but this is the first relapse documented in this outbreak,” the WHO reported.
So far, the Ebola outbreak in the Congo has infected over 3,300 and killed more than 2,200 in 2019, with an additional 11 cases confirmed just this week.
According to the WHO, all 11 new cases were infected by the relapsed patient, who is believed to be a potential source of infection for up to 28 people.
“It is a single transmission chain, but it is worrying,” said the WHO’s Head of Emergencies Mike Ryan, noting his concern over Mabalako’s proximity to the bustling trading town of Butembo.
“We had a massive problem [in Butembo] only six months ago,” Ryan added, “so there is a real concern that any continued transmission in Mabalako may potentially re-infect Butembo,” which could greatly undermine containment efforts.
While officials have tried their best to both treat and contain the outbreak, rebel militias spreading violence along the Congo border have thwarted those efforts, allowing the virus to remain uncontained.
As a result, infection rates have begun to rise, particularly in the insecure region of Mabalako.
With continued transmissions in Mabalako on the rise, Butembo’s risk of reinfection is quickly becoming more of a possibility.
In addition to containment, health officials have used experimental vaccines to help fight against the deadly Ebola outbreak.
The Congo received its first shipment of new vaccines in November, which came in a batch of 11,000 doses. The new vaccines were manufactured by Johnson & Johnson after the Congolese Ebola outbreak was declared a public health emergency of international concern.