‘Young miracle’: Baby recovers from Ebola in Congo outbreak

They call her the "young miracle." A baby who was admitted to an Ebola treatment center just six days after birth is now recovered from the virus. Congo's health ministry calls the baby the youngest survivor in what is now the world's second-deadliest Ebola outbreak. The ministry late Thursday tweeted a photo of the infant, swaddled and … Continue reading “‘Young miracle’: Baby recovers from Ebola in Congo outbreak”

They call her the "young miracle." A baby who was admitted to an Ebola treatment center just six days after birth is now recovered from the virus.

Congo's health ministry calls the baby the youngest survivor in what is now the world's second-deadliest Ebola outbreak.

The ministry late Thursday tweeted a photo of the infant, swaddled and with tiny mouth open in yawn or squall, surrounded by caregivers who watched over her 24 hours a day for weeks.

The baby's mother, who had Ebola, died in childbirth, the ministry said.

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The infant was discharged from the treatment center in Beni on Wednesday. "She went home in the arms of her father and her aunt," the ministry said.

Experts have reported worryingly high numbers of children with Ebola in this outbreak, which Congo's health ministry says now has 515 cases, 467 of them confirmed, including 255 confirmed deaths.

The tiny survivor is named Benedicte. In video footage shared by UNICEF, she is shown in an isolated treatment area, cradled in the arms of health workers in protective gear or cuddled by Ebola survivors, called "nounous," who can go without certain gear such as masks. The survivors are crucial with their reassuring presence, the health ministry said.

"This is my first child," her father, Thomas, says. "I truly don't want to lose her. She is my hope." He gazes at his daughter through the clear protective plastic.

Children now account for more than one-third of all cases in this outbreak, UNICEF said earlier this week. One in 10 Ebola cases is in a child under 5 years old, it said, and children who contract the hemorrhagic fever are at greater risk of dying than adults.

While Ebola typically infects adults, as they are most likely to be exposed to the lethal virus, children have been known in some instances to catch the disease when they act as caregivers.

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Few cases of Ebola in babies have historically been reported, but experts suspect transmission might happen via breast milk or close contact with infected parents. Ebola is typically spread by infected bodily fluids.

The World Health Organization also has noted that health centers have been identified as a source of Ebola transmission in this outbreak, with injections of medications "a notable cause."

So far, more than 400 children have been left orphaned or unaccompanied in this outbreak as patients can spend weeks in treatment centers, UNICEF said. A kindergarten has opened next to one treatment center in Beni "to assist the youngest children whose parents are isolated" there, it said.

Health expert have said this Ebola outbreak, the 10th in Congo, is like no other as they face the threat of attack from armed groups and resistance from a wary population in a region that had never faced an Ebola outbreak before. Tracking suspected contacts of Ebola victims remains a challenge in areas controlled by rebels.

The latest WHO assessment , released Thursday, simply calls the circumstances "unforgiving."

And now, Congo is set to hold a presidential election on Dec. 23, with unrest already brewing .

Ebola spreads to major Congo city as vaccines a concern

The second-largest Ebola outbreak in history has spread to a major city in eastern Congo, as health experts worry whether the stock of an experimental vaccine will stand up to the demands of an epidemic with no end in sight.

Butembo, with more than 1 million residents, is now reporting cases of the deadly hemorrhagic fever. That complicates Ebola containment work already challenged by rebel attacks elsewhere that have made tracking the virus almost impossible in some isolated villages.

"We are very concerned by the epidemiological situation in the Butembo area," said John Johnson, project coordinator with Medecins Sans Frontieres in the city. New cases are increasing quickly in the eastern suburbs and outlying, isolated districts, the medical charity said.

The outbreak declared on Aug. 1 is now second only to the devastating West Africa outbreak that killed more than 11,300 people a few years ago. There are currently 471 Ebola cases, of which 423 are confirmed, including 225 confirmed deaths, Congo's health ministry said late Thursday.

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Without the teams that have vaccinated more than 41,000 people so far, this outbreak could have already seen more than 10,000 Ebola cases, the health ministry said .

This is by far the largest deployment of the promising but still experimental Ebola vaccine , which is owned by Merck. The company keeps a stockpile of 300,000 doses, and preparing them takes months.

"We are extremely concerned about the size of the vaccine stockpile," WHO's emergencies director, Dr. Peter Salama, told the STAT media outlet in an interview this week, saying 300,000 doses is not sufficient as urban Ebola outbreaks become more common.

Health workers, contacts of Ebola victims and their contacts have received the vaccine in a "ring vaccination" approach, but in some cases all residents of hard-to-reach communities have been offered it. The prospect of a mass vaccination in a major city like Butembo has raised concerns. Salama called the approach "extremely impractical."

A WHO spokesman said shipments of doses arrive almost every week to ensure a sufficient supply for the ring vaccination. "No interruptions of vaccine supply have occurred to date," Tarik Jasarevic said in an email to The Associated Press. "Merck is actively working to ensure sufficient number of doses continue to be available to meet the potential demand."

This Ebola outbreak is like no other, with deadly attacks by rebel groups forcing containment work to pause for days at a time. Some wary locals have resisted vaccinations or safe burials of Ebola victims as health workers battle misinformation in a region that has never encountered the virus before.

A "fringe population" has regularly destroyed medical equipment and attacked workers, Health Minister Dr. Oly Ilunga Kalenga told reporters on Wednesday.

The Ebola virus is spread via bodily fluids of those infected, including the dead.

The outbreak "remains serious and unpredictable," the World Health Organization said in an assessment released Wednesday. Nine health zones have reported new cases in the last week, and some have been unrelated to known victims, meaning that gaps in tracking remain in a region with a dense, highly mobile population.

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Thousands of people have been organized by Red Cross societies and others to go house-to-house dispelling rumors and checking on possible contacts of victims.

Dr. Fatoumata Nafo-Traore, Africa regional director for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, joined one awareness campaign in the outbreak's epicenter, Beni, this week.

The head of one family thanked her for the face-to-face contact, saying he didn't even have a radio and didn't understand what was happening. "Ignorance is the enemy," another resident said.

Given the years of conflict in eastern Congo, it's essential that households trust why the health workers are there, Nafo-Traore told the AP.

While she called the insecurity "very worrying," she said that with new tools at hand, including vaccines, "there is great hope."

Ebola in Congo now infecting newborn babies, UN says

The World Health Organization says a worrying number of the newest Ebola cases amid Congo's ongoing outbreak are in patients not usually known to catch the disease: babies.

In an update published this week, the U.N. health agency reported 36 new confirmed cases of Ebola, including seven in newborn babies and infants younger than 2 years old. Six cases were reported in children aged between 2 and 17 and one case was in a pregnant woman.

While Ebola typically infects adults, as they are most likely to be exposed to the lethal virus, children have been known in some instances to catch the disease when they act as caregivers.

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Few cases of Ebola in babies have been reported, but experts suspect transmission might happen via breast milk or close contact with infected parents. Ebola is typically spread by infected bodily fluids. WHO noted that health centers have been identified as a source of Ebola transmission, with injections of medications "a notable cause."

WHO called Congo's current epidemic "complex and challenging." Congo's health ministry says there are 346 confirmed cases, including 175 deaths, in what has become the worst Ebola outbreak in the country's recorded history.

The outbreak has been plagued by security problems, with health workers attacked by rebels in districts where the virus has been spreading. Earlier this month, Ebola containment operations were paused after seven U.N. peacekeepers and 12 Congolese soldiers were killed, but all activities have resumed.

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The increasing number of cases in children and health workers — 39 health workers have been infected to date — suggests outbreak responders are having major problems stopping the virus in health clinics and convincing people to seek help when they develop symptoms. This is the first time this part of Congo has faced an Ebola outbreak.

WHO said the risk of the outbreak spreading to neighboring countries remains "very high" but it does not recommend travel restrictions. Uganda this month started vaccinating health workers against Ebola in a heavily traveled border district near the outbreak.