A woman receives an experimental Ebola vaccine at a makeshift clinic on the outskirts of the Congolese city of Mbandaka in early June.
NAIROBI: The most serious outbreak of the Ebola virus since an epidemic devastated West Africa two years ago, killed 11000 people and catapulted the disease back into the global consciousness, is almost assuredly over. Out of caution, though, health officials will closely monitor the situation for another three weeks before making the final declaration.

As of yesterday, contacts of the last confirmed case of the virus had passed a 21-day incubation period without showing signs of infection. That means that no one who was in contact with an infected person needs to be monitored daily any more. A total of 38 cases were confirmed, of which 14 died. Another 15 people most probably died of the disease as well. For the past three weeks, all suspected cases have turned out to be negative.

For an Ebola outbreak to be officially declared over, however, two incubation periods (a total of 42 days) must pass without any confirmed cases.

And so begins the countdown to the end of Congo’s ninth and most worrisome Ebola outbreak. It was declared on May8, when a cluster of cases was confirmed deep in the rain forest of the country’s Equateur province. Over the next three weeks, the virus made its way to Mbandaka, a regional transport hub and city of 1.2million along the busy Congo and Ruki rivers. Ebola is far harder to contain in densely populated urban areas, and the possibility of a traveller contracting the disease and taking it to another part of the country increased greatly.

“This outbreak has been the most challenging and complex outbreak the country has ever had to face,” said Congo’s minister of health, Oly Ilunga. “Yet thanks to a rapid national and international mobilisation, as well as a great government-led co-ordination of the response, we managed to contain this outbreak in just seven weeks.”

According to the minister, 1706 contacts of those either confirmed or thought to have contracted Ebola were traced and monitored. Contact tracing, as the process is called, requires the establishing of a vast surveillance team to watch people’s movements from town to town, and reporting any cases of fever that could be Ebola.

That tracing was also used in a new way during this outbreak: to identify candidates for an experimental Ebola vaccine that had been used only once before, in the waning days of the West African epidemic. More than 3300 people ultimately were administered with the vaccine, which the health minister referred to as a “game-changer”. - The Washington Post