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Ebola Vaccines Start in Congo

Bikoro, Democratic Republic of Congo —(Map)

Ebola is a rare, but deadly disease that was first discovered in 1976. It can cause great pain, bleeding, and, often, death.

Ebola virus seen under an electron-scanning microscope.
Ebola virus seen under an electron-scanning microscope.
(Source: CDC/Cynthia Goldsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.)

Ebola came to humans from other animals, such as fruit bats. Fruit bats can carry Ebola without being harmed. Once a person is infected (made sick) with Ebola, the disease can be passed to other people in the blood, or other body liquids.

Peters's epauletted fruit bat
Fruit bats can carry Ebola, but are not affected by it.
Peters’s epauletted fruit bat is one kind of fruit bat found in Congo.
(Source: Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE, via Wikimedia Commons.)

Because Ebola spreads easily and can affect people quickly, it has caused serious problems. In Africa, between 2014 and 2016, it killed over 11,000 people before it was finally controlled.

Many people didn’t understand how dangerous Ebola was. Health workers have to wear special clothes to protect themselves from Ebola. In the past, some people were scared because of the way the workers looked.

Workers dealing with Ebola must wear special clothes for protection.
Workers dealing with Ebola must wear special clothes for protection.
(Source: UNMEER, via Flickr.)

One of the hard parts in treating Ebola is that patients need to be kept away from other people. When people don’t understand this, even more people can catch the disease. Often people got Ebola from a dead person they were burying.

In early May, Ebola was reported in Bikoro, Democratic Republic of Congo. Although Ebola is always serious, health workers in the African nation were a little less worried this time. One reason is that Bikoro is far away from other places. That makes it harder for the disease to spread.

Another reason is because the workers were ready this time. This is the ninth time Ebola has been found in Congo. Since 2016, government workers in Congo have been making plans, and explaining to people how to keep themselves safe.

An educational picture of Ebola care.
Congo has worked to help people understand how to keep themselves safe around Ebola.
(Source: CDC Global, via Flickr.)

A New Tool – an Ebola Vaccine

Health workers also have a new tool this time. They are using a special medicine called a vaccine. A vaccine helps the human body learn how to fight a sickness. After getting a small shot with the vaccine, the human body can protect itself from Ebola.

The Ebola vaccine the workers are using is not being used anywhere else yet. The World Health Organization (WHO) gave special permission to use the vaccine this time in Congo. In tests, the vaccine seems to have protected 100% of the people who used it.

Twitter post showing the first Ebola vaccine in Mbandaka.

Not everyone is getting the vaccine – just health workers and people who have come in contact with Ebola patients. By doing this, health workers think they can stop the disease from spreading.

But they still have many problems to face. The vaccines need to stay very, very cold. This can be hard when traveling to far away places. There are no roads to Bikoro and other places where the workers need to go, so they have to fly in by helicopter.

Ebola has now reached Mbandaka, Congo - a city of almost a million people.
Ebola has now reached Mbandaka, Congo – a city of almost a million people.
(Source: Piet Clement, from Wikimedia Commons.)

And Ebola has now reached a big city. There have been several cases reported in Mbandaka, a city of about a million people. Ebola will be much more difficult to control if many people in a big city get it.

Still, many people are hopeful. As one person speaking for the WHO said about the health workers in Congo, “…they know what they need to do.

Bikoro, Democratic Republic of Congo


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