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Ebola survivors’ immunity theory causes impasse among medics in Congo

Medical experts from the World Health Organisation (WHO) say it could take years before the immunity of Ebola survivors could be understood.

This follows a worrying incident among WHO where a patient from Congo, who was once an Ebola survivor died, challenging the accepted medical theory that survivors are immune to reinfection.

It has raised concerns because the woman, whose name has not been released for confidentiality reasons, was thought to have had immunity after surviving infection, but fell ill again with Ebola and died.

“That was a big red flag event for all of us,” said Janet Diaz, who leads the World Health Organization’s clinical management team for the epidemic in Congo.

The woman was working as a caregiver in the high-risk “red zone” of a treatment centre in Beni, eastern Congo, according to health officials familiar with her case.

She was one of dozens of people assigned to care for Ebola patients because it was assumed they would not get sick as Ebola survivors, although some researchers have considered reinfection to be at least a theoretical possibility.

According to a report by Reuters, WHO and Congolese officials have drafted new guidelines,  warning that some Ebola survivors may have “incomplete immunity” and advise that additional measures should be taken to protect them from possible reinfection.

The new protocols would set limits on which Ebola survivors can work in treatment centres and standardise precautions that must be taken.

The yearlong Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo has hit what officials are calling a milestone. More than 3,000 have been confirmed and probable cases and a death toll above 2,000, according to government data released in August.

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