On May 8, 2018, the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) declared an outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever after confirming two cases of the disease by laboratory tests in the northwestern part of the country. The government made the decision after receiving reports of an additional 21 suspected cases of Ebola, including 17 deaths, in the previous five weeks. By May 15, the number of deaths climbed to 23 and the number of confirmed cases reached 44, spreading to three health zones of the country and moving from rural areas into a city of 1.2 million people.
This outbreak is a stark reminder of 2014 events, when several West African countries became affected by the largest epidemic of Ebola in history, a rare but deadly viral disease spread through close and direct physical contact with infected bodily fluids that has an average fatality rate of 50 percent. The epidemic killed 11,325 people in a period of two years. The virus spread to 36 countries beyond the borders of the West African nations and affected Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, and the United States with over 28,000 people infected. Another 2014 Ebola outbreak in the DRC (unrelated to the West African outbreak) claimed the lives of 74 percent of infected people.
Like many developing countries with limited public sector financial and human resources, the DRC remains vulnerable to highly contagious bacterial and viral diseases. This May’s outbreak is the ninth recorded outbreak of Ebola in the DRC. In fact, the disease was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in the area now known as the DRC.