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Healthcare Workers Contain Ebola Outbreak

2018-6-11

From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

Ebola is back in Africa -- this time in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

On its website the World Health Organization (WHO) states that, as of June 9, at least 28 people have died in the DRC after they had contact with Ebola virus disease. This is out of 66 confirmed, probable or suspected Ebola cases.

Health workers in the DRC are working quickly to stop the virus from spreading. They are using a new vaccine to protect people.

Wangui Nondi says his body temperature rose after he cared for his brother, who died from Ebola. But Nondi is better now after receiving the Ebola vaccine.

The vaccination campaign began in the middle of May in two countryside communities. But there is a limited supply of the vaccine. So, health care workers were the first to be vaccinated.

World Health Organization official Tarik Jasarevic told VOA that only people who have been in contact with an infected person get the vaccine. He said this helps to form a kind of ring around the patient.

"This is not a general mass immunization, as is being done for some other diseases. We are looking into people who have been in contact with those who tested positive for Ebola, and their contacts. So, we make a ring around the person who contracted the virus."

The vaccine they are using was developed a few years ago during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The experimental vaccine has proven to be safe and effective in human testing.

Doctor Tarit Mukhopadhyay is a vaccine expert with the University College, London. He leads the Vaccine Development Working Group for the UK Vaccine Network. He explains how the vaccine works.

This colorized image of an Ebola virus virion comes from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This colorized image of an Ebola virus virion comes from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"What it does, it teaches the immune system to recognize those Ebola proteins on the surface of this modified virus, and in doing so, create a protective response against that."

Scientists can only test the vaccine when there is an Ebola outbreak. Dr. Mukhopadhyay says he and other researchers have many questions.

"What we're trying to do now is to establish how effective is this vaccine? Do you need one dose, or two doses to be protected? And once you've been injected or vaccinated with this, how long does that protection last for, as well?"

Containing Ebola virus disease may be a problem in the DRC. The areas affected by this outbreak are close to heavily-used waterways. It started in an area called Bikoro, and then moved to Mbandaka, a busy port along the Congo River.

People use the river to bring produce to the country's capital, Kinshasa. Health workers say keeping Ebola out of heavily populated areas is critical to containing this outbreak.

Another critical part of containing the outbreak is cooperation.

Jasarevic said that to defeat an Ebola outbreak, the whole community needs to cooperate. The most important thing, he said, is that infected people receive treatment in a hospital where they can be separated from others, or isolated. They must not remain at home.

"It is only human, that people who have their relatives in isolation units want them to be at home, want them to be with their family at home in what could be the last moments of their lives. But we need really to explain to everyone that is how disease is being transmitted. If a person who is sick is in an isolation unit, it not only increases the chance of survival for this patient, but it will also prevent the spread of the virus to the family."

Brief history of Ebola

WHO officials say Ebola virus disease first appeared in 1976. That is when medical experts confirmed cases in what is now South Sudan and the DRC.

Scientists say they think the virus comes from wild animals. The disease can be transmitted from person to person through direct contact with the blood or other fluids from an infected person. For that reason, Ebola patients must be kept away from other people.

The virus destroys cells that control blood pressure and then causes organ failure. Signs of the disease include high body temperature, vomiting, diarrhea, and bleeding. Once infected, patients have a very low chance of surviving.

Health workers carry the body of an Ebola victim for burial at a cemetery in Freetown, December 17, 2014.
Health workers carry the body of an Ebola victim for burial at a cemetery in Freetown, December 17, 2014.

The worst Ebola outbreak in history took place between 2014 and 2016. It killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa. The WHO and international health experts have since been criticized for not doing a better job in fighting the disease.

And that's the Health & Lifestyle report. I'm Anna Matteo.

VOA’s Anita Powell reported on the efforts of Tarik Jasarevic, while VOA’s Carol Pearson reported on the work of Tarit Mukhopadhyay. Anna Matteo adapted their reports for Learning English. Her story also uses information from the WHO website.

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Words in This Story

outbreak - n. a sudden start or increase of fighting or disease

dose - n. to have the food, liquid, etc., that is in your stomach come out through your mouth because you are sick

response - n. something that is done as a reaction to something else

modify - v. to change some parts of (something) while not changing other parts

immunization - n. the act of protecting someone from a disease

vomit - v. to have the food, liquid, etc., that is in your stomach come out through your mouth because you are sick

diarrhea - n. an illness that causes you to pass waste from your body very frequently and in liquid rather than solid form

transmit – v. to cause (a virus, disease, etc.) to be given to others

ring – n. something that forms a circle around something else

positive – adj. good or useful