When Ebola swept through the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2018, it was a struggle to track cases. Dr. Billy Yumaine, a public health official, recalls steady flows of people moving back and forth across the border with Uganda while others hid sick family members in their homes because they feared the authorities. It took at least a week to get test results, and health officials had difficulty isolating sick people while they waited.
It took two years for the country to bring that outbreak under control, and more than 2,300 people died.
A similar disaster threatened the D.R.C. last September. Members of a family in North Kivu Province fell ill with fevers, vomiting and diarrhea, one after the other. Then their neighbors became sick, too.
But that set off a series of steps that the D.R.C. put in place after the 2018 outbreak. The patients were tested, the cases were quickly confirmed as a new outbreak of Ebola and, right away, health workers traced 50 contacts of the families.
Then they fanned out to test possible patients at health centers and screened people at the busy border posts, stopping anyone with symptoms of the hemorrhagic fever. Local labs that had been set up in the wake of the previous outbreak tested more than 1,800 blood samples.
It made a difference: This time, Ebola claimed just 11 lives.
“Those people died, but we kept it to 11 deaths, where in the past we lost thousands,” Dr. Yumaine said.
You probably didn’t hear that story. You probably didn’t hear about the outbreak of deadly Nipah virus that a doctor and her colleagues stopped in southern India last year, either. Or the rabies outbreak that threatened to race through nomadic Masai communities in Tanzania. Quick-thinking public health officials brought it in check after a handful of children died. [Continue reading…]