The second-worst Ebola outbreak ever is officially over

Tools used in the fight are now being applied to COVID-19 and another Ebola outbreak in Congo

Doctor and patient in Beni, Congo

After a tremendous effort from health workers on the front lines (one pictured here with a patient in Beni, North Kivu), Congo’s 10th Ebola outbreak has ended.

World Bank/Vincent Tremeau/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The second-largest Ebola virus outbreak ever has finally come to an end. Beginning in Congo in August 2018, the outbreak sickened 3,470 people (SN: 5/18/18). Nearly two-thirds of those patients, or 2,287, died.    

June 25 marks 42 days after the last patient linked to the outbreak went home from the hospital on May 14. That’s two full incubation periods for the virus. With no new cases, Congo health officials and the World Health Organization have officially declared the outbreak over.

Lasting 22 months, this was Congo’s 10th fight against Ebola. Cases were concentrated in the North Kivu and Ituri Provinces, and health officials struggled against militant groups and misinformation to contain the virus.

In contrast to past Ebola outbreaks, doctors had an effective vaccine in their arsenal that helped curb case numbers this time around (SN: 5/21/18). In 2019, that vaccine became the first, and still only, vaccine to win approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (SN: 12/20/19).

Two new treatments also proved highly effective at keeping patients alive in clinical trials during the outbreak (SN: 8/12/19). (One of those treatments is made by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc., a major sponsor of the Society for Science & the Public, which publishes Science News.)

To curb the spread of the deadly virus, local health workers traced 250,000 people who had come into contact with infected individuals, tested 220,000 samples and vaccinated 303,000 people, the WHO says.

Congo “is now better, smarter and faster at responding to Ebola, and this is an enduring legacy which is supporting the response to COVID-19 and other outbreaks,” Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said June 25 in a statement.

That legacy will be tested in the coming months as local health officials continue to combat COVID-19, a measles outbreak and another separate Ebola outbreak that began in a different region of the country on June 1.

Helen Thompson is the multimedia editor. She has undergraduate degrees in biology and English from Trinity University and a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University.

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