Inside the Biosecure Emergency Care Unit at the ALIMA Ebola treatment centre in Beni. Picture: Reuters/Baz Ratner
Cape Town - There are a few words that spark instant fear in people and “ebola” is one of those words. 

Not too long ago, between 2014 and 2016, an outbreak of ebola in West Africa caused the deaths of more than 11 300 people.

Now, there’s a second massive outbreak brewing - this time in Democratic Republic of Congo. 

There have been more than 2000 cases of ebola reported in Democratic Republic of Congo, most of them - 1 411 - have been fatal.


This makes it the second-largest outbreak of the deadly haemorrhagic viral disease in recorded history. 

Neighbouring Uganda has also reported cases: there have been two deaths so far, a five year old boy and his grandmother who had recently travelled to Democratic Republic of Congo. 

So, what is ebola? Well, it’s an haemorrhagic fever that has a mortality rate of up to 90%. It causes pain and fever, followed by vomiting and diarrhoea, internal and external bleeding and in most cases, death. The disease has a 21 day incubation period, making it difficult to contain. 

Ebola is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, and even once recovered, people can still carry the virus for up to months afterwards in their semen or breast milk. 

So how do we fight it?

There’s a highly effective vaccine, and some experimental treatments have also been cleared for use to fight this latest outbreak.

But the problem is public perception of the outbreak - people in the region are distrustful of the government and have been hostile towards health workers. Some people don’t even believe ebola presents a credible threat, and others have even accused the government of inventing a crisis in order to secure international donations and funding. 

Another challenge facing the fight to contain the disease is the ongoing war in DRC. Six million people have been killed in six years, and most recently, 300 thousand people have been forced to flee their homes because of the ongoing violence in the Ituri province in the north east of the country.