A baby who was admitted to an Ebola treatment center at just six days old has been hailed a ‘young miracle’ after surviving her battle with the killer virus.
Congo’s health ministry said the girl, called Benedicte, is the youngest survivor in what is now the world’s second-deadliest ever Ebola outbreak.
Figures show the death toll in the African nation has jumped to 289, as neighbouring countries remain on high alert amid fears it could spread.
The ministry tweeted a photo of the infant, swaddled and with her tiny mouth open surrounded by caregivers who watched over her 24 hours a day for weeks.
The baby’s mother, who had been struck down with Ebola, died in childbirth, the ministry confirmed.
The infant was discharged from the treatment center in Beni on Wednesday. ‘She went home in the arms of her father and her aunt,’ the ministry said.
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ebola outbreak, which began in August, is showing no signs of slowing down.
Experts have reported worryingly high numbers of children with Ebola in this outbreak, accounting for a third of all cases.
And the latest figures show 515 people are feared to have been struck down, of which 467 cases have been confirmed. Data also reveals 255 confirmed deaths.
In video footage shared by UNICEF, Benedicte is shown in an isolated treatment area, specially set-up to deal with the outbreak.
She is cradled in the arms of health workers donning protective gear and by Ebola survivors, called ‘nounous,’ who can go without certain gear, such as masks.
‘This is my first child,’ her father, Thomas, said. ‘I truly don’t want to lose her. She is my hope.’
Children who contract the hemorrhagic fever, responsible for a brutal pandemic in West Africa in 2014, are at greater risk of dying than adults.
Ebola typically infects adults because they are most likely to be exposed to the lethal virus. However, children have been known in some instances to catch the disease when they act as caregivers.
Few cases of Ebola in babies have historically been reported, but experts suspect transmission could happen via breast milk or close contact with infected parents.
So far, more than 400 children have been left orphaned or unaccompanied in this outbreak as patients can spend weeks in treatment centers, UNICEF said.
A kindergarten has opened next to one treatment center in Beni ‘to assist the youngest children whose parents are isolated’ there, it added.
HAS THE DRC HAD AN EBOLA OUTBREAK BEFORE?
DRC escaped the brutal Ebola pandemic that began in 2014, which was finally declared over in January 2016 – but it was struck by a smaller outbreak last year.
Four DRC residents died from the virus in 2017. The outbreak lasted just 42 days and international aid teams were praised for their prompt responses.
The new outbreak is the DRC’s tenth since the discovery of Ebola in the country in 1976, named after the river. The outbreak earlier this summer was its ninth.
Health experts credit an awareness of the disease among the population and local medical staff’s experience treating for past successes containing its spread.
DRC’s vast, remote geography also gives it an advantage, as outbreaks are often localised and relatively easy to isolate.
Health experts have said this Ebola outbreak, the tenth to strike Congo since the virus was discovered there in 1976, is like no other.
Health workers face the threat of attack from armed groups and resistance from a wary population in a region that had never faced an Ebola outbreak before.
Tracking suspected contacts of Ebola victims remains a challenge in areas controlled by rebels.
Ebola can be transmitted between humans through blood, secretions and other bodily fluids of people – and surfaces – that have been infected.
The treatment of Ebola itself has taken an experimental turn in DRC, where scientists are now conducting a real-time study of how well pioneering drugs work.
More than 160 people there have already been treated with the drugs, and the way people are treated won’t change, but scientists will now be able to compare them.
Four experimental drugs are being used to try and combat the disease – mAb 114, ZMapp, Remdesivir and Regeneron.
Patients will get one of the four, but researchers won’t know which they were given until after the study.
The outbreak has been plagued by security problems, with health workers attacked by rebels in districts where the virus has been spreading.
Health workers had to be evacuated from their hotel after it was hit by a shell in a nearby armed rebel attack last month.
Armed groups have kidnapped and killed people trying to treat the sick, and ongoing conflict has made locals suspicious of official health workers.
Last week, officials announced more Ebola cases are being diagnosed in the city of Butembo, 35 miles (56km) away from Beni, where most of the outbreak is happening.
Experts warn the quick spread makes tackling the virus more complicated because containing it has been challenging enough in the one city.
They fear experimental vaccines which have been doled out to thousands of people, and have reportedly prevented the death toll rising into the thousands, will run out.
It comes after news broke earlier this week that hundreds of health workers in South Sudan will be given Ebola vaccinations amid fears the virus will spread.
No cases have been confirmed in neighbouring South Sudan yet, but the country is on ‘high alert’, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
More than 2,000 healthcare and frontline workers in the country will be offered a vaccine to try and stop the spread.
Teams of vaccinators are ready to conduct the vaccinations, starting in the capital, Juba, on December 19.
The UN Refugee Agency warned there is an influx of Congolese refugees seeking shelter in South Sudan because of conflict in the DRC.
SOURCE: Dailymail, by Stephen Matthews Health Editor For Mailonline and Associated Press