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Ebola Claims Two More Lives in Congo as Vaccinations Under Way

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Two more people died from Ebola and seven new cases were confirmed in the northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo, as a vaccination campaign began to halt an outbreak that’s reached a provincial capital.

A nurse died in Bikoro, the remote town in Equateur province where the outbreak was first reported, while the other death was in Mbandaka, the provincial capital about 150 kilometers (93 miles) away, Congo’s Health Ministry said. The new cases were all around Bikoro.

The fatalities bring the death toll in the central African nation’s ninth recorded Ebola outbreak to 28. Fifty-one suspected cases of the virus, including 28 confirmed and 21 probable, have been recorded since the outbreak was declared in Equateur on May 8, according to the ministry.

(Related: The Spanish Flu Centennial: A Look at Influenza’s Continuing Pandemic Risk)

Ebola was discovered in Congo in 1976 and the current outbreak is the first to be tackled with a vaccination campaign. It’s using the still-unlicensed rVSV-ZEBOV Ebola vaccine that was trialed successfully in Guinea in 2015 during a major outbreak in parts of West Africa that killed more than 11,000 people.

The treatment’s manufacturer, Merck & Co., has donated 7,540 doses that arrived in Congo last week. Another 8,000 doses will be made available in the coming days, the World Health Organization said Monday.

So far, 24 cases have been confirmed around Bikoro and four in Mbandaka, a city of 1.2 million people that’s connected by the Congo River to Kinshasa and Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo.

On Monday, the Health Ministry, WHO and partners started a “ring vaccination” program in Mbandaka and Bikoro, initially immunizing health workers who’ve been exposed to confirmed cases. Hundreds of people who have been in contact with infected individuals, as well as contacts of contacts, have been identified to be vaccinated, the WHO said.

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