WHO chief says Ebola outbreak in Congo is stabilizing

GENEVA, June 8 (Reuters) - A deadly Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo is stabilizing, giving a reason for cautious optimism, the head of the World Health Organization said on Friday.

"It's stabilizing. We're optimistic, cautiously optimistic," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told Reuters.

He said he would travel to Congo on Sunday to check on progress a month into the outbreak, and would also go to neighboring Central African Republic as part of a drive to build up health systems in the fragile and impoverished country.

The deadly virus has killed 27 people since the outbreak began in April, and there have been 62 cases, 38 of which were confirmed in a laboratory. A further 14 are probable Ebola cases, and 10 more people are suspected of having Ebola.

In contrast to previous Ebola outbreaks, health workers have moved quickly to halt the spread of the virus by vaccinating everybody who has had contact with Ebola patients, and everybody who has had contact with those primary contacts.

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Children attend a class session at the Wangata commune school during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka
A World Health Organization (WHO) worker prepares to administer a vaccination during the launch of a campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in the port city of Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Congolese Health Ministry officials arrange the first batch of experimental Ebola vaccines in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A teacher leads a class at the Wangata commune school during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A Congolese child washes her hands as a preventive measure against Ebola at the Church of Christ in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Equipment and apparatus are seen inside the laboratory of the National Institute for Biomedical Research (INRB) in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A World Health Organization (WHO) worker administers a vaccination during the launch of a campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in the port city of Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A vendor calls for clients as she holds smoked monkey meat and a variety of bush meat at an open-air market during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Equipment and apparatus are seen inside the laboratory of the National Institute for Biomedical Research (INRB) in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A child attends a class at the Wangata commune school during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A Congolese health worker checks the temperature of passengers disembarking from a Congo Airways plane in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Congolese women row their boats on the Congo River during the vaccination campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in the port city of Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 22, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Equipment and apparatus are seen inside the laboratory of the National Institute for Biomedical Research in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
World Health Organization (WHO) workers prepare a centre for vaccination during the launch of a campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in the port city of Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A World Health Organization (WHO) worker prepares to administer a vaccination during the launch of a campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in the port city of Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Children attend a class at the Wangata commune school during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A general view shows equipment and apparatus inside the laboratory of the National Institute for Biomedical Research (INRB) in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Patients seeking medical attention sit at the health centre in the commune of Wangata, during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
People and traffic are seen along a street in Ngaba commune of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Medical workers are seen at the health centre in the commune of Wangata during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A Congolese health worker instructs residents about washing their hands as a preventive measure against Ebola in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Children attend a class at the Wangata commune school during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A laboratory worker uses a microscope at the health centre in the commune of Wangata during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Congolese women row their boats on the Congo River during the vaccination campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in the port city of Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 22, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Congolese Health Ministry officials carry the first batch of experimental Ebola vaccines in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A Congolese woman carries a snake for food at the shores of the Congo River during the vaccination campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in the port city of Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 22, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A Congolese health worker records medical data of passengers at the airport in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
World Health Organization (WHO) medical supplies to combat the Ebola virus are seen packed in crates at the airport in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A Congolese man washes his hands as a preventive measure against Ebola in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Packaged Ebola-response materials wait to be transported to the Democratic Republic of Congo in this May 16, 2018 picture obtained from social media video, in Brussels, Belgium. DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS/MEDECINS SANS FRONTIERES (MSF)/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT.
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Using the vaccine to ring-fence patients has almost certainly slowed the spread of the disease, WHO's Deputy Director-General for Emergency Preparedness and Response Peter Salama told a news conference at WHO headquarters in Geneva.

There had been no new cases since mid-May in two of the three areas hit by the disease - the initial outbreak zone of Bikoro and the city of Mbandaka, he said, describing the health response as showing "very strong progress."

"We have added cause for optimism because now we have reached… more than 98 percent of the contacts with vaccination," Salama said.

Most patients who have been vaccinated had the jab more than 10 days ago, enough time to be confident that they were now protected, he said.

Phase one of the disease response was about protecting the urban centers and towns and that had gone well, Salama said, but phase two, tackling the remote forested areas, was an enormous logistical effort that would go on for weeks.

The area had no infrastructure and could be covered only by motorbike, with several hours needed to trace every contact, he said.

"There’s a lot of very tough work to do in phase two before we can say we’re on top of this outbreak and we’ve learned the hard way in the past never to underestimate Ebola."

(Reporting by Tom Miles, Editing by Hugh Lawson, William Maclean)

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