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Health Highlights: Feb. 17, 2021

By Robert Preidt HealthDay Reporter

U.S. Calls for Swift Action on New Ebola Outbreaks

Swift action is needed on two new Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Guinea "to avoid catastrophic consequences," the White House said Tuesday.

"While the world is reeling from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Ebola has again emerged, simultaneously, in both Central and West Africa. The world cannot afford to turn the other way," said a statement released Tuesday by White House press secretary Jen Psaki, CNBC reported. "We must do everything in our power to respond quickly, effectively, and with commensurate resources, to stop these outbreaks before they become large-scale epidemics."

The World Health Organization (WHO) said last week it had confirmed cases of Ebola in Butembo, a city in the North Kivu Province in the DRC. The city was an epicenter of the second-largest Ebola outbreak in the world, which was finally declared over in June. An Ebola vaccine is being sent to the hard-to-reach city and health officials are racing to contain the highly lethal disease before it spreads widely, the WHO said.

Separately, officials in Guinea confirmed over the weekend the reemergence of Ebola in N'Zerekore, in southern Guinea. On Sunday, after at least three people died and four others were infected with the disease, the West African nation declared an Ebola epidemic, CNBC reported. Neighboring countries Sierra Leone and Liberia have put their citizens on high alert.

Unlike the highly infectious coronavirus, which can be spread by people who don't have symptoms, Ebola is thought to spread mainly through people who are already visibly sick. The virus spreads through direct contact with the blood or body fluids of people who are sick or who have died of the disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ebola has an average case fatality rate of 50%, though it can vary by outbreak, according to the WHO.

Psaki said President Joe Biden has been briefed on the outbreaks, and that U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke with the ambassadors of Guinea, the DRC, Sierra Leone and Liberia "to convey the United States' willingness to work closely" with those countries, CNBC reported.

"Mr. Sullivan emphasized President Biden's commitment to provide U.S. leadership to strengthen health security and create better systems for preventing, detecting, and responding to health emergencies," Psaki said. "Outbreaks require swift and overwhelming response in order to avoid catastrophic consequences."

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