WHO: One in four DR Congo Ebola cases could be going undetected

Second-worst Ebola epidemic on record 'certainly not under control', World Health Organization warns.

One-quarter of Ebola infections in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo's latest outbreak of the disease may be going undetected, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO's Health Emergencies Programme, said on Thursday the epidemic was "not out of control, but it is certainly not under control", with insecurity and community mistrust hampering emergency responders' efforts.

"We believe we are probably detecting in excess of 75 percent of cases. We may be missing up to a quarter of cases," Ryan said at a press conference in the Swiss city of Geneva.

"We must get earlier detection of cases, [and] have more exhaustive identification of contacts," he added.

More than 2,000 cases - involving 1,357 deaths - have been recorded since the epidemic started in the DRC's North Kivu and Ituri provinces in August.

The outbreak - the second-worst on record - reached 1,000 cases in March. It then took less than three more months to surpass 2,000, signalling a tripling in the rate of infection.

In a bid to contain its spread, health workers inoculated more than 130,000 people to date as part of a government-backed vaccination programme. The vaccine is experimental but is estimated to be 97.5 percent effective and, according to the WHO, may protect a person for up to 12 months.

Transmission slows

In a weekly update issued separately on Thursday, the WHO said there were "early signs" of an easing of the intensity with which the virus was spreading following weeks of insecurity that curbed access to communities and interrupted the vaccination programme.

There was a total of 88 confirmed cases in each of the last two weeks, down from a peak of 126 over a seven-day stretch at the end of April, according to WHO's update. A third of the identified cases were people who died without having being admitted to Ebola treatment centres.

Ryan said about 90 percent of people potentially exposed to the virus had agreed to be vaccinated, with WHO teams checking some 15,000 suspected contacts each day for symptoms.

"[But] it's not them that matter now, it's the 10 percent that don't, because all of our cases are coming from that group," he added.

Health teams have been unable to reach some areas because of violence by rebel groups, with scores of rival armed factions active in the region. More than 100 attacks on treatment centres and health workers have been recorded since the beginning of the year, according to WHO.

'We need a single voice'

Experts and aid agencies warned the situation for responders on the ground has become "poisoned" amid the violence and widespread community distrust over the epidemic.

According to a recent study by the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal, large segments of the local population believe the virus is a fabrication invented for the financial gain of business-owning local elites or to further destabilise the area. 

Fewer than two-thirds of the nearly 1,000 respondents said they would take a vaccine for Ebola.

Ryan said risks to health workers had decreased of late, but he called on the DRC's political leaders to act in unison and build trust with impacted communities to end the epidemic.

"We need the government to reach out to the opposition, we need an 'all-party' approach... We need a single voice of leaders in [DR] Congo about this outbreak," he said.

The world's worst epidemic of Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever, killed about 11,300 people in West Africa as it raced through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia from 2013 to 2016.

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Ebola Virus Death Toll in DR Congo Hits 803 - Officials

MOSCOW (Sputnik) - A total of 803 people have lost their lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) due to the infection with the Ebola virus since its outbreak in 2018, the DRC Health Ministry said.

"As of Sunday, April 14, 2019, [Ebola virus infection] totals to 1,251 cases [1,185 confirmed and 66 possible], 803 deaths", the ministry wrote on Twitter late on Sunday.

READ MORE: Researchers Discover Potential Ebola Virus Antidote

On 12 April, the death toll stood at 764, while number of infection cases amounted to 1,206, according to the ministry’s figures.

At the same time, 371 people have been cured from the decease since the virus broke out in the DRC in 2018, the ministry added.

On Thursday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) humanitarian organization issued a warning, saying the situation in the DRC was worsening as people had stopped seeking relief assistance due to loss of trust in Ebola responders.

UN Contributes $10Mln to Combat Ebola in Nations Bordering DR Congo

The outbreak of Ebola is occurring in the DRC since August 2018.

The Ebola virus is a deadly disease that is spread through blood and body fluid. Symptoms include fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, sore throat, diarrhea.

READ MORE: No Grounds to Declare Emergency of Int'l Concern Amid DRC Ebola Outbreak — WHO

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Brazil's Flu Vaccination Campaign Begins This Week

Brasilia, Apr 9 (Prensa Latina) The national vaccination campaign against influenza will begin on Wednesday, April 10, throughout the country, Agencia Brasil, quoted by the Ministry of Health, informed on Monday.

According to the Ministry, immunization was anticipated this year in about 15 days compared to other calendars, when the campaign began in the second half of April.

In this first phase, priority will be given to children between one and six years old, pregnant women and puerperal women (those up to 45 days after giving birth).

Starting April 22, all people participating in the campaign can receive the dose, including health workers, indigenous peoples, the elderly, and teachers of public and private schools.

People with disabilities and other special clinical conditions, adolescents and young people between 12 and 21 years old under socio-educational measures, prison system officials and persons deprived of their freedom, are also included.

The choice of priority groups responds to a recommendation of the World Health Organization (WHO).

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Mosquito scent discovery could change a billion lives

US researchers genetically modify mosquitoes making females less likely to spread diseases like dengue and Zika fever.

Researchers in the United States have genetically modified mosquitoes to make humans less attractive to them - a discovery that could dramatically reduce the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, such as dengue, malaria and Zika fever.

Female mosquitoes have been long known to use an array of sensory information to find people to bite. They can sense exhaled carbon dioxide from as far as 10 metres away, as well as being able to detect body odour, heat and moisture.

But new research, published in the journal Current Biology, has shown an acidic component in human sweat plays a key role in attracting the insect.

"We wanted to understand the genetic basis of how the mosquitoes detect their human hosts," Matthew DeGennaro, a mosquito neurobiology researcher at Florida International University, told Al Jazeera.

Gene identified

The scientists identified a gene - known as Ir8a - expressed in the mosquito's antenna. This gene appears to allow female mosquitoes, the ones that suck blood, to smell lactic acid, a particular acidic vapour in human sweat.

Using advanced CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing technology, the researchers were able to disrupt that gene, making the female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes significantly less interested in humans.

"Removing the function of Ir8a removes approximately 50 percent of host-seeking activity," said DeGennaro.

The genetically-modified mosquitoes were less likely to detect and bite humans, making them much less likely to spread mosquito-borne illnesses.

For a species such as Aedes aegypti, which lives alongside half of the world's population and spreads diseases that kill millions of people each year, this genetic modification has huge potential health benefits.

"The transmission of diseases like dengue, yellow fever, Zika, and malaria can be blocked if we stop these mosquitoes from biting us," said DeGennaro

Repellent potential

While the release of genetically-modified mosquitoes into the wild to combat the spread of dengue fever has been a controversial practice, this latest research is not only focused on the potential of cross-breeding them with wild populations.

The researchers say their work can also offer a more advanced understanding of how mosquitoes hunt and feed on their human targets and will allow them to develop improved mosquito repellents.

These could include life-saving perfumes or scents that would disrupt mosquitoes' sense of smell and protect people from being bitten.

"Odours that mask the IR8a pathway could enhance the efficacy of current repellents like DEET or picaridin. In this way, our discovery may help make people disappear as potential hosts for mosquitoes," said DeGennaro.

In the same way, the researchers say they may be able to use the discovery to overstimulate parts of the insect's detection system and use the scent to lure them away from our humans and into traps.

The effect is "like getting on an elevator with someone who has put on way too much cologne", Larry Zwiebel, a biologist at Vanderbilt University, told US broadcaster NPR.

In February this year, the World Health Organization warned that an emerging resistance to insecticides could lead to a large increase in malaria cases and mortality.

The effects of climate change, which will make more parts of the world hospitable to mosquitoes and the diseases they spread, are also expected to hamper control efforts.

It's in this context that new and innovative insect control methods like those developed by the Florida researchers are going to become increasingly important.

Researchers were able to disrupt the Ir8a gene, making female mosquitoes significantly less interested in humans [Florida International University/Flickr]

Prepare For Next Flu Pandemic, "It's A Matter Of When, Not If": WHO

London: The world will inevitably face another pandemic of flu and needs to prepare for the potential devastation that could cause, and not underestimate the risks, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday.

Outlining a global plan to fight the viral disease and get ahead of a potential global outbreak, the WHO said the next influenza pandemic "is a matter of when, not if".

"The threat of pandemic influenza is ever-present," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO's director-general, said in a statement. "We must be vigilant and prepared - the cost of a major influenza outbreak will far outweigh the price of prevention."

The world's last flu pandemic was caused by the H1N1 virus, which spread around the world in 2009 and 2010. Studies of that pandemic found that at least one in five people worldwide were infected in the first year, and the death rate was 0.02 per cent.

Global health experts and the WHO warn there is a risk that a more deadly flu virus will one day jump from animals to people, mutate and infect many hundreds of thousands of people.

Flu viruses are multiple and ever-changing, and they infect around a billion people every year around the world in seasonal outbreaks. Of those infections, around 3 to 5 million are severe cases, leading to between 290,000 and 650,000 seasonal flu-related respiratory deaths.

Vaccines can help prevent some cases, and the WHO recommends annual vaccination - especially for people working in health care and for vulnerable people such as the old, the very young and people with underlying illness.

The WHO plan - which it described as its most comprehensive to date - includes measures to try to protect populations as much as possible from annual outbreaks of seasonal flu, as well as prepare for a pandemic.

Its two main goals, the WHO said, are to improve worldwide capacities for surveillance and response - by urging all governments to develop a national flu plan, and to develop better tools to prevent, detect, control and treat flu, such as more effective vaccines and antiviral drugs.

Air Pollution Kills 600,000 Children Each Year: World Health Organization

Geneva: Exposure to toxic air both indoors and out kills some 600,000 children under the age of 15 each year, the World Health Organization warned Monday.

Data from the UN health body shows that every day, 93 percent of children under the age of 15 -- a full 1.8 billion youngsters, including 630 million under the age of five -- breath dangerously polluted air.

This has tragic consequences: In 2016 alone, some 600,000 children died from acute lower respiratory infections caused by polluted air, the WHO report found.

"Polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement. 

"This is inexcusable. Every child should be able to breathe clean air so they can grow and fulfil their full potential."

According to WHO data, more than nine out of 10 people on the planet breath dangerously toxic air, causing some seven million premature deaths each year.

Air pollution is especially dangerous for children, and accounts for nearly one in 10 deaths among children under five around the globe, the report found.

WHO's study, which examined the health toll on children breathing health-hazardous levels of both outdoor and household air pollution, focused on dangerous particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5).

These include toxins like sulfate and black carbon, which pose the greatest health risks since they can penetrate deep into the lungs or cardiovascular system.

The report found that children in poorer countries are far more at risk, with a full 98 percent of all children under five in low- and middle-income countries exposed to PM2.5 levels above WHO air quality guidelines.

That compares to 52 percent in high-income countrie, WHO said.

Triggers asthma, cancer

Together, household air pollution from cooking and outdoor air pollution cause more than half of all cases of acute lower respiratory infections in young children in low- and middle-income countries, WHO said.

The report, launched ahead of the WHO's first ever Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health, revealed that when pregnant women are exposed to polluted air, they are more likely to give birth prematurely and have small, low birthweight children.

It found that children are often more vulnerable to the impact of air pollution since they breath more rapidly than adults, and thus absorb more pollutants at a time when their brains and bodies are still developing.

They also live closer to the ground, where a number of pollutants reach peak concentrations, WHO said, pointing out that newborns and young children are also more susceptible to household air pollution in homes that use polluting fuels for cooking, heating and lighting.

Air pollution can impact a child's development and cognitive ability, and can trigger asthma and childhood cancer, WHO said.

Children who have been exposed to high levels of air pollution may also be at greater risk for chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease later in life, it said.

"Air pollution is stunting our children's brains, affecting their health in more ways than we suspected," warned Maria Neira, the head of the WHO's department of public health and environment.

The UN health body is calling for an acceleration of the switch to clean cooking and heating fuels, and for the promotion of cleaner transportation, lower emissions, and better waste management, among other measures.

"The world needs to reduce the overdependance we have on fossil (fuel), and accelerate to clean, renewable energy," Neira told reporters in a conference call.

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Ebola: WHO Chief Says No Need to Declare a Global Emergency

At least 33 people have been infected with the deadly Ebola virus in the past week.

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, called an emergency committee meeting to address the current surge in Ebola cases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

RELATED: Those Killed by Ebola Outbreak in DR Congo Increase to 72

“The current spike in Ebola cases and deaths is extremely worrying,” a spokesperson for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) remarked, last week. 

At Wednesday's committee meeting, Ghebreyesus noted that there is no need for an international emergency to be declared but the cases in the DRC region are to be viewed as dangerous.

"I have accepted the Emergency Committee’s recommendation not to declare a public health emergency of international concern. But this does not mean WHO is not taking the #Ebola outbreak in #DRC seriously. We still have more than 250 people working in DRC to end this outbreak," the director general posted to Twitter.

About 130 people have died since July, which is the tenth outbreak to devastate the DRC over the last 40 years, more than doubling since September. Over 200 suspected cases of the virus, which causes a deadly hemorrhagic fever, have been reported in the latest outbreak, the country’s second this year.

@DrTedros I have accepted the Emergency Committee’s recommendation not to declare a public health emergency of international concern. But this does not mean WHO is not taking the outbreak in seriously. We still have more than 250 people working in DRC to end this outbreak.

“Conspiracy theories, fear and mistrust around the disease have caused people to resist help and hide symptoms,” Red Cross spokesman Euloge Ishimwe told Reuters. 

At least 33 people have been infected with the deadly Ebola virus in the past week, 24 of which have since passed away, according to the health ministry of the DRC.

Ebola spreads through contact with the bodily fluids of infected individuals. 

The DRC Ministry of Health said 73 patients had received new trial treatments. About half recovered, 20 remain hospitalized and the others died.

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US Blockade on Cuba Is Unfair, WHO Says

The blockade imposed by the United States government on Cuba is unfair, Cristian Morales, representative in Havana of the World Health Organization/Pan American Health Organization (WHO/PAHO), said today.

Therefore, we join the majority position of the countries at the time of the historic vote at the UN General Assembly, Morales told Prensa Latina in this capital.

That policy damages the development and health of the Cuban people, and forces national authorities to make double and triple efforts to keep the equipment running and guarantee medicines that are needed, he said.

Two thirds of those medicines consumed are produced in Cuba, but sometimes that amount needs raw materials coming from abroad, sometimes becomes a hindrance to this blockade, the UN official said.

There are some medications that are not produced on the island and need to be imported, but instead of being brought from Latin America, or the United States itself, they have to be purchased from China or Europe, he stated.

Also, those companies that sell them, have to make sure they do not have any U.S. component, because they can be subject to sanctions, he said.

In this way, the country is affected, including its health system, because it has to pay more for the same, the PAHO/WHO representative concluded.

The Cuban government will denounce on October 31 the worsening of the blockade at the UN General Assembly.

  • Published in Cuba
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