CDC confirms second U.S. case of Wuhan coronavirus

(Reuters) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday confirmed that a second case of Wuhan coronavirus in the United States had been detected in Chicago, and said as many as 63 people were being monitored as the virus spreads around the globe.

The infected person had traveled to Wuhan, China recently. The woman, 60, had not taken public transportation and was not ill when she traveled, Chicago health authorities said on a conference call.

Of the 63 people under investigation from 22 states, 11 tested negative, CDC said in a conference call with reporters.

The newly discovered virus has killed 26 people and infected more than 800, but most of the cases and all of the deaths so far have been in China, where officials have imposed restrictions on travel and public gatherings.

The CDC said it believes the immediate threat to U.S. residents remains low.

The World Health Organization on Thursday declared the virus an “emergency in China”, but stopped short of declaring it a global health emergency.

(Reporting by Saumya Sibi Joseph in Bengaluru and Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)

China heads into Lunar New Year on shutdown as virus toll hits 26

By Judy Hua and Cate Cadell

BEIJING, China (Reuters) – China shut part of the Great Wall and suspended public transport in 10 cities, stranding millions of people at the start of the Lunar New Year holiday on Friday as authorities rush to contain a virus that has killed 26 people and infected more than 800.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the new coronavirus an “emergency in China” but stopped short of declaring it of international concern.

People line up outside a drugstore to buy masks in Shanghai, China January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song

While restrictions on travel and gatherings have already been imposed to curb the outbreak, China will take stricter and more targeted measures, state television reported citing a State Council meeting on Friday, but gave no further details.

“The spread of the virus has not been cut off … Local authorities should take more responsibility and have a stronger sense of urgency,” state broadcaster CCTV said.

The Defence Ministry said it is organizing military medical experts to take part in the fight against the virus, without giving details.

Most of the cases and all of the deaths have been in China, but the virus has also been detected in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Nepal and the United States.

Britain convened an emergency response meeting on Friday.

While health officials have been at pains to say it is too soon to evaluate the severity of the outbreak, the newly identified coronavirus has triggered alarm because it is too early to know how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads.

Symptoms include fever, difficulty breathing and coughing. Most of the fatalities have been elderly, many with pre-existing conditions, the WHO said.

As of Thursday, there were 830 confirmed cases and 26 people had died there, China’s National Health Commission said.

WUHAN ISOLATED

Most cases have been in Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated in a market that traded illegally in wildlife. Preliminary research suggested it crossed to humans from snakes.

China has advised people to avoid crowds and 10 cities in the central province of Hubei, where Wuhan is located, have suspended some transport, the Hubei Daily reported.

The week-long celebrations to welcome the Year of the Rat began on Friday, raising fears the infection rate could accelerate as hundreds of millions of people have already traveled to see family at home and abroad.

The city of 11 million people, and neighboring Huanggang, a city of 7 million, were in virtual lockdown. Nearly all flights at Wuhan’s airport had been canceled. Airports worldwide have stepped up the screening of passengers from China.

Checkpoints blocked the main roads leading out of town, and police checked incoming vehicles for wild animals.

About 10 people got off a high-speed train that pulled into Wuhan on Friday afternoon but nobody got on before it resumed its journey. Although it stopped there, Wuhan had been removed from the train’s schedule.

“What choice do I have? It’s Chinese New Year. We have to see our family,” said a man getting off the train who gave his family name Hu.

Some sections of the Great Wall near Beijing will be closed from Saturday, state media said.

Some temples have also closed, including Beijing’s Lama Temple where people make offerings for the new year, have also been closed as has the Forbidden City, the capital’s most famous tourist attraction.

Shanghai Disneyland will close from Saturday. The theme park has a 100,000 daily capacity and sold out during last year’s new year holiday. Film premieres have also been postponed and McDonald’s suspended business in five cities in Hubei province.

In Wuhan, where the outbreak began last month, pharmacies were running out of supplies and hospitals were flooded with nervous resident seeking medical checks.

The city was rushing to build a 1,000-bed hospital for the infected by Monday, the official Changjiang Daily reported.

“There’s so much news, so much data, every 10 minutes there’s an update, it’s frightening, especially for people like us in a severely hit area,” Lily Jin, 30, a resident of the city, told Reuters by phone.

VACCINE QUEST

The WHO said on Thursday it was a “bit too early” to designate the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, which would require countries to step up their response.

Some experts believe the virus is not as dangerous as the one that caused the 2002-03 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which also began in China and killed nearly 800 people, or the one that caused Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which has killed more than 700 people since 2012.

There is no known vaccine or particular treatment yet.

“There is some work being done and there are some trials now for MERS (vaccines). And we may look at some point whether those treatments and vaccines would have some effect on this novel coronavirus,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said on Friday.

Gilead Sciences Inc said it was assessing whether its experimental Ebola treatment could be used. Meanwhile, three research teams were starting work on vaccines, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations said.

The virus is expected to dent China’s growth after months of economic worries over trade tensions with the United States, unnerving foreign companies doing business there.

Shares in luxury goods firms have suffered from the anticipated drop in demand from China, and on Friday French spirits group Remy Cointreau said it was “clearly concerned” about the potential impact.

(Reporting by Roxanne Liu, David Stanway, Martin Pollard, Tony Munroe, Muyu Xu, Engen Tham, Cate Cadell, Judy Hua and Ben Blanchard; Writing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Alison Williams)

China orders ‘unprecedented’ lockdown of two cities at virus epicenter

China orders ‘unprecedented’ lockdown of two cities at virus epicenter
By Yawen Chen and Se Young Lee

BEIJING (Reuters) – China on Thursday locked down two cities at the epicenter of a coronavirus outbreak that has killed 17 people and infected nearly 600, as health authorities around the world took action to prevent a global pandemic.

Health officials fear the transmission rate will accelerate as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel at home and abroad during week-long holidays for the Lunar New Year, which begins on Saturday.

The previously unknown virus strain is believed to have emerged late last year from illegally traded wildlife at an animal market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

Most transport in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, was suspended on Thursday morning and people were told not to leave. Hours later, neighboring Huanggang, a city of about 7 million people, announced a similar lockdown.

“The lockdown of 11 million people is unprecedented in public health history, so it is certainly not a recommendation the WHO has made,” Gauden Galea, the World Health Organization’s representative in Beijing, told Reuters.

Other cities were also taking steps to restrict movement and contact. Nearby Ezhou shut its train stations. The capital Beijing canceled major public events, including two well-known Lunar New Year temple fairs, the state-run Beijing News said.

Airports worldwide were screening passengers arriving from China.

There is no vaccine for the virus, which can spread through respiratory transmission. Symptoms include fever, difficulty in breathing and cough, similar to many other respiratory illnesses.

Preliminary research suggested it was passed on to humans from snakes, but government medical adviser Zhong Nanshan has also identified badgers and rats as possible sources.

WHO MEETING

The WHO has said it will decide on Thursday whether to declare the outbreak a global health emergency, which would step up the international response.

If it does so, it will be the sixth international public health emergency to be declared in the last decade. A WHO news conference is expected some time after 1800 GMT.

Chinese authorities gave no new details on the numbers of virus infections but it has been reported in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Of eight known cases worldwide, Thailand has confirmed four, while Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States have reported one each.

Authorities had confirmed 571 cases and 17 deaths by the end of Wednesday, China’s National Health Commission said. Earlier, it said another 393 suspected cases had been reported.

In a report on Wednesday, Imperial College London said it estimated a total of 4,000 cases of the coronavirus in Wuhan alone as of Jan. 18, an infection rate based on the number of cases reported in China and elsewhere.

Wuhan shut down all urban transport networks and suspended outgoing flights from 10 a.m. (0200 GMT). Domestic media said some airlines were operating after the deadline, however.

Wuhan’s Hankou rail station was nearly deserted, with gates blocked, state broadcasts showed. The government urged citizens not to leave the city.

State media reported highway toll booths around Wuhan were closing down, which would effectively cut off road exits. Guards were patrolling highways, one resident told Reuters.

As the city slipped into isolation, residents thronged into hospitals for checks and scrambled for supplies, clearing out supermarket shelves and queuing for petrol.

Authorities in Huanggang ordered indoor entertainment venues including cinemas and internet cafes to close.

FACE MASKS

In contrast with its secrecy over the 2002-03 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that killed nearly 800 people, China’s Communist Party government has provided regular updates to avoid panic ahead of the holidays.

During a visit to Wuhan, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said authorities needed to be open about the virus and efforts to contain it, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Some experts believe the new virus is not as dangerous as previous coronaviruses such as SARS and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which has killed more than 700 people since 2012.

“The early evidence at this stage would suggest it’s not as severe,” Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy told reporters.

Despite China’s response, world shares fell on Thursday, led by the biggest tumble in Chinese stocks in more than eight months, as concern mounted about the outbreak. China’s yuan fell to a two-week low. [MKTS/GLOB]

The economic impact of such outbreaks are hard to quantify but a 2006 estimate by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) calculated that SARS shaved just over 1 percentage point off the GDP of China in 2003.

InterContinental Hotels and Hyatt are allowing guests to change or cancel stays at most Chinese hotels.

A general view shows the monitors of thermal scanners that detect temperatures of passengers at the security check inside the airport in Guatemala City, Guatemala January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

Many Chinese were cancelling trips, buying face masks and avoiding shopping centers.

The release of seven movies over the Lunar New Year has been postponed. The holiday is the high season for distributors and cinemas attract huge crowds.

Airports globally, including in Britain, stepped up screening of passengers from China and the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said the further global spread of the virus was likely.

“All the fatalities have so far been contained to mainland China, however, this is a rapidly developing situation and the number of deaths and the number of cases is likely to be higher than those that have been confirmed so far and I expect them to rise further,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the British parliament.

(Reporting by Yawen Chen, Se Young Lee, Sophie Yu and Gabriel Crossley in Beijing, Sam Shen and Engen Tham in Shanghai, Ben Blanchard in Taiwan, Alison Lui and Donny Kwok in Hong Kong, John Geddie and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Kate Kelland and Elizabeth Howcroft in London; Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Stephen Coates and Clarence Fernandez and Alison Williams)

WHO says new China coronavirus could spread, warns hospitals worldwide

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – There may have been limited human-to-human transmission of a new coronavirus in China within families, and it is possible there could be a wider outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause infections ranging from the common cold to SARS. A Chinese woman has been quarantined in Thailand with a mystery strain of coronavirus, Thai authorities said on Monday, the first time the virus has been detected outside China.

In all, 41 cases of pneumonia have been reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, which preliminary lab tests cited by state media showed could be from a new type of coronavirus, and one patient has died. There have since been no new cases or deaths, Wuhan health authorities said on Tuesday.

“From the information that we have it is possible that there is limited human-to-human transmission, potentially among families, but it is very clear right now that we have no sustained human-to-human transmission,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, acting head of WHO’s emerging diseases unit.

The WHO is however preparing for the possibility that there could be a wider outbreak, she told a Geneva news briefing. “It is still early days, we don’t have a clear clinical picture.”

Some types of the virus cause less serious diseases, while others – like the one that causes MERS – are far more severe.

The U.N. agency has given guidance to hospitals worldwide about infection prevention and control in case the new virus spreads. There is no specific treatment for the new virus, but anti-virals are being considered and could be “re-purposed”, Van Kerkhove said.

With Chinese New Year approaching on Jan. 25, when many Chinese tourists visit Thailand, the WHO called on Thai authorities, the public and holidaymakers to be on alert.

Richard Brow, the agency’s representative in Thailand, said anyone with a fever and cough who had spent time in Wuhan should get checked out by a health worker.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; additional reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng in Bangkok and Vincent Lee; Editing by John Stonestreet and Pravin Char)

WHO decries ‘collective failure’ as measles kills 140,000

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) – Measles infected nearly 10 million people in 2018 and killed 140,000, mostly children, as devastating outbreaks of the viral disease hit every region of the world, the World Health Organization said on Thursday.

In figures described by its director general as “an outrage”, the WHO said most of last year’s measles deaths were in children under five years old who had not been vaccinated.

“The fact that any child dies from a vaccine-preventable disease like measles is frankly an outrage and a collective failure to protect the world’s most vulnerable children,” said the WHO’s director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus.

The picture for 2019 is even worse, the WHO said, with provisional data up to November showing a three-fold increase in case numbers compared with the same period in 2018.

The United States has already reported its highest number of measles cases in 25 years in 2019, while four countries in Europe – Albania, the Czech Republic, Greece and Britain – lost their WHO “measles-free” status in 2018 after suffering large outbreaks.

An outbreak in the South Pacific nation of Samoa has infected more than 4,200 people and killed more than 60, mostly babies and children, in a battle complicated by a vocal anti-vaccination movement.

In 2018, measles hit hardest in Liberia, Ukraine, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar and Somalia, the WHO said, with these five nations accounting for nearly half of all cases worldwide.

Globally, measles vaccination rates have stagnated for almost a decade. The WHO and the UNICEF children’s fund say that in 2018, around 86% of children got a first dose of measles vaccine through routine vaccination plans, and fewer than 70% got the second dose recommended to fully protect them.

STAGGERING

Heidi Larson, director of the Vaccine Confidence Project at Britain’s London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said the numbers were “staggering”.

“Some countries are scrambling to vaccinate in the face of serious outbreaks – far too late for many,” she said.

Measles is one of the most contagious known diseases, more so than Ebola, tuberculosis or flu. It can linger in the air or on surfaces for several hours after an infected person has been and gone, putting anyone not vaccinated at risk.

Among wealthier nations, vaccination rates have been hurt by some parents shunning them for what they say are religious or philosophical reasons. Mistrust of authority and debunked myths about links to autism also weaken vaccine confidence and lead some parents to delay protecting their children.

Research published in October showed that measles infection not only carries a risk of death or severe complications including pneumonia, brain damage, blindness and deafness, but can also damage the victim’s immune memory for months or years – leaving those who survive measles vulnerable to other dangerous diseases such as flu or severe diarrhea.

The WHO data showed there were an estimated 9,769,400 cases of measles and 142,300 related deaths globally in 2018. This compares to 7,585,900 cases and 124,000 deaths in 2017.

Charlie Weller, head of vaccines at the Wellcome Trust global health charity, said the numbers were a tragedy. “If we are to protect lives, we must understand and address the reasons why measles vaccine uptake is lower,” she said.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Gareth Jones and Hugh Lawson)

Ebola death toll in east Congo outbreak climbs above 2,000

FILE PHOTO: A health worker fills a syringe with Ebola vaccine before injecting it to a patient, in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Baz Ratner/File Photo

By Djaffar Al Katanty and Aaron Ross

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – The death toll from Democratic Republic of Congo’s year-long Ebola outbreak has climbed above 2,000, government data showed on Friday, as responders battle to overcome community mistrust and widespread security problems.

The death in neighboring Uganda of a 9-year-old girl who had tested positive for the virus after entering the country from Congo underscored the challenge medical teams face containing the disease in border territory with a highly mobile population.

The government team overseeing the response said the number of confirmed and probable cases had also hit a milestone of more than 3,000 in what has become the second-worst epidemic of the virus on record.

Despite the development of an effective vaccine and treatments, health workers have struggled to stop the virus spreading in remote and conflict-hit areas of eastern Congo, where many locals are wary of the response effort.

Nevertheless, the World Health Organization said the latest Uganda case highlighted the border authorities’ skill at detecting and isolating potential sources of transmission.

“This case was picked up at the border,” WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said at a briefing in Geneva. “The people who are at the borders have the expertise.”

This is Congo’s 10th Ebola outbreak, but it is the first in the densely forested hillside provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, where militia-led violence and ethnic killing have undermined security in certain areas for decades.

The WHO declared the epidemic an international health emergency in July – only the fifth outbreak to warrant this status since the system was introduced in 2005.

The authorities have since come up against new fronts in their fight to contain the virus, testing the reach and flexibility of responders.

Health workers confirmed the first cases in South Kivu province on Aug. 16. Soon after, a woman contracted the virus in a remote, militia-controlled territory in North Kivu, hundreds of kilometers away from other known cases.

“The response is being spread too thin chasing new cases at the expense of the longer-term community engagement that is crucial if we’re ever to hope of being Ebola free,” Oxfam’s Congo Director Corinne N’Daw said in a statement.

Despite the virus spreading to new areas, the past week’s transmission rate was little changed from that of the past month and a half, which has seen an average of 77 new cases per week, according to the WHO.

Last week the WHO voiced concern about the widening geographic reach of the disease, but confirmed the virus had not gained a foothold in the major city of Goma, even after four cases were recorded there in July and early August.

Goma, a lakeside city of nearly 2 million people on the Rwandan border, had been on high alert for weeks after a gold miner with a large family infected several people with Ebola before dying himself.

The latest government data showed Ebola deaths reaching 2,006 and cases at 3,004.

“Two thousand deaths means that there is a problem,” said Timothée Buliga, a priest, returning home from his church in Goma. “We need to reach the point where we reject Ebola, say no and eradicate it definitively.”

Only the 2013-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa has been deadlier than the current outbreak. More than 11,300 people died then out of the 28,000 who were infected.

(Additional reporting by Tom Miles and Stephanie Nebehey in Geneva; Elias Biryabarema in Kampala; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Hugh Lawson)

Fourth Ebola case found in Congo city, raising fears of faster spread

FILE PHOTO: Congolese health workers prepare to administer ebola vaccination to residents at a centre in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, August 1, 2019. REUTERS/Djaffer Sabiti

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – A fourth case of Ebola has been confirmed in the eastern Congo city of Goma, the government said late on Thursday, raising fears of an acceleration in infections close to the border with Rwanda.

The new case is the wife of a miner who died of the virus earlier this week and who only sought treatment more than a week after starting to show symptoms, authorities said.

“This time … the individual concerned spent time with his family and spent time [being] very symptomatic within the community. So we did expect further cases and we are seeing further cases,” said Margaret Harris, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization (WHO).

One of the couple’s daughters has also tested positive for Ebola though the government said on Friday two others were negative in preliminary checks. More than 200 people who came into contact with the man have been tracked and 160 of them vaccinated.

An outbreak on Ebola has killed more than 1,800 people in other parts of Democratic Republic of Congo since it was declared one year ago, making it the second-worst on record. Two people have died in Uganda, which also borders Congo, but no registered cases have occurred in Rwanda.

Fears the disease was gaining a foothold in Goma, a city of 1 million people, had subsided after its first case emerged in July but was not immediately followed by more. The new cases confirmed this week were not linked to that first case, authorities said.

BORDER TOWN

Nestled in hilly country at the foot of an active volcano, Goma lies just 7 km (4.5 miles) from Rwanda’s main border town of Gisenyi.

On Thursday, Rwanda briefly shut its border crossings with Congo around the city, after the new cases emerged.

Increased health screenings caused traffic slowdowns at the border, Rwandan Health Minister Diane Gashumba said, hours after Congolese traders had reported it shut. About 45,000 people a day go through the main border post, an immigration official said.

In July, the outbreak was declared an international health emergency by the WHO, but the body said there should be no trade or travel restrictions.

“When you close borders… two things happen: first you get panic, people see this as a signal to start panicking,” Harris told reporters in Geneva.

“Secondly, people who do have symptoms go underground. Because they don’t want to be seen and they do want to continue their daily lives, and so we are even less likely to detect where this virus is moving,” she added.

(Reporting by Fiston Mahamba in Goma, Anna Pujol-Mazzini in Dakar and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; editing by Alison Williams, Larry King and Andrew Heavens)

Congolese cross-border trader’s Ebola death fuels Uganda outbreak fears

FILE PHOTO: A Congolese health worker prepares to administer Ebola vaccine, outside the house of a victim who died from Ebola in the village of Mangina in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, August 18, 2018. REUTERS/Olivia Acland/File Photo

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) – A Congolese woman who died of Ebola this month vomited four times in a Ugandan market after crossing the border days earlier to sell fish, the WHO said, fuelling fears that the virus may be spreading beyond the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The current outbreak of the highly infectious disease has been all but confined to Congo, killing 1,673 people there – more than two-thirds of those who contracted it – over the past year, and three in Uganda last month.

A World Health Organization panel is debating whether to declare the outbreak “of international concern”, a designation that the agency’s head suggested a case this month in the large Congolese city of Goma had made more likely.

The fisherwoman traveled across the border to Mpondwe market on July 11, according to a Ugandan Health Ministry report published on Wednesday by the WHO.

It said 19 fishmongers were listed as having had possible contact with her while another 590 could be targeted for vaccination.

The health response to the virus relies on tracking down and testing people who may have been exposed to it and vaccinating them and anybody they have had contact with.

Ugandan and Congolese officials were working to find people who might have been put at risk by the dead woman, who appeared to have used an illegal border crossing, health ministry spokesman Emmanuel Ainebyona said.

So far “no one has been found to be positive of the Ebola virus. The team is still monitoring the tested traders,” he said.

The report said health workers had not established where the fishmonger spent nights, who transported her merchandise and who cleaned up her vomit.

The Ministry and the WHO said there were currently no confirmed Ebola cases in Uganda.

The WHO’s emergency committee of international experts were meeting on Wednesday for a fourth time to consider if the 11-month outbreak constituted a “public health emergency of international concern” (PHEIC), and will announce their decision at 1700 GMT.

A PHEIC declaration would be just the fifth in WHO history and include recommendations for international action. It could also help unlock sorely needed funds.

Last month the committee decided the potential disruption of declaring one risked causing economic harm while achieving nothing.

But WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this week that the case in Goma was a potential game-changer since it meant Ebola might now spread among the urban population and into neighboring Rwanda.

A separate WHO report cited a very high risk for Uganda’s Arua district, which borders a Congolese area where an Ebola patient died after having had contact with over 200 people. Two deaths in Arua were under investigation.

(Reporting by Tom Miles and Nairobi newsroom; Editing by Gareth Jones and John Stonestreet)

First Ebola patient in eastern Congo’s main city dies, fears of epidemic spreading

A health worker checks the temperature of a woman as she crosses the Mpondwe border point separating Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of the ebola screening at the computerised Mpondwe Health Screening Facility in Mpondwe, Uganda June 13, 2019. REUTERS/Newton Nabwaya

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – The first Ebola patient in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s largest city, Goma, has died, the government said on Tuesday.

The spread of the virus to Goma, a city of roughly 1 million people on the border with Rwanda, has raised fears the outbreak, which is already the second deadliest Ebola epidemic ever, could spread more widely.

The patient was a priest who became infected during a visit to the town of Butembo, one of the epicenters of the outbreak, before taking a bus to Goma, according to Congo’s health ministry.

He was being driven from Goma to a clinic in Butembo on Monday to receive treatment when he died, North Kivu province’s Governor Carly Nzanzu told an Ebola response meeting.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that health officials had identified 60 people who had come into contact with the pastor since he was taken ill and that half of them had been vaccinated.

Goma, a lakeside city more than 350 kilometers (220 miles) south of where Ebola was first detected a year ago, is the largest city to be affected by the outbreak, which has infected more than 2,500 people and killed nearly 1,700.

Three Ebola cases which originated in Congo were confirmed in neighboring Uganda a month ago, but no new cases have since been registered in that country.

(Reporting by Stanis Bujakera and Djaffar Al Katanty, Writing by Anna Pujol-Mazzini, Editing by Ed Osmond)

Eroding trust in vaccines leaves populations vulnerable, global study finds

FILE PHOTO: A vial of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and an information sheet is seen at Boston Children's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts February 26, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

By Kate Kelland

LONDON, June 19 (Reuters) – Trust in vaccines – one of the world’s most effective and widely-used medical products – is highest in poorer countries but weaker in wealthier ones where skepticism has allowed outbreaks of diseases such as measles to persist, a global study found on Wednesday.

France has the least confidence of any country in the world in the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, with a third believing that vaccines are unsafe, according to the study.

While most parents do choose to vaccinate their children, varying levels of confidence expose vulnerabilities in some countries to potential disease outbreaks, the study’s authors said, recommending that scientists need to ensure people have access to robust information from those they trust.

Public health experts and the World Health Organization (WHO) say vaccines save up to 3 million lives every year worldwide, and decades of research evidence consistently shows they are safe and effective.

But to achieve “herd immunity” to protect whole populations, immunization coverage rates must generally be above 90% or 95%, and vaccine mistrust can quickly reduce that protection.

“Over the last century, vaccines have made many devastating infectious diseases a distant memory,” said Charlie Weller, head of vaccines at the Wellcome Trust health charity, which co-led the Wellcome Global Monitor study.

“It is reassuring that almost all parents worldwide are vaccinating their children. However, there are pockets of lower confidence in vaccines across the world.”

The spread of measles, including in major outbreaks in the United States, the Philippines and Ukraine, is just one of the health risks linked to lower confidence in vaccines.

In Afghanistan and Pakistan, false rumors about polio vaccines being part of a Western plot have in recent years hampered global efforts to wipe out the crippling disease.

The study, led by Wellcome and polling company Gallup, covered 140,000 people from more than 140 countries.

It found 6% of parents worldwide – equivalent to 188 million – say their children are unvaccinated. “The highest totals were in China at 9%, Austria at 8% and Japan at 7%.”

Seth Berkley, chief executive of the not-for-profit GAVI vaccine alliance, said the report showed a “worrying number of people” questioning vaccine safety. But by focusing on the “vocal minority” who refused to vaccinate, it was easy to forget that the vast majority trusted vaccines and the science that underpinned them.

The study also found that three-quarters of the world’s people trust doctors and nurses more than anyone else for health advice and that in most parts of the world, more education and greater trust in health systems, governments and scientists is a also sign of higher vaccine confidence.

In some high-income regions, however, confidence is weaker. Only 72% of people in North America and 73% in Northern Europe agree that vaccines are safe. In Eastern Europe, it is just 50%.

Heidi Larson, director of the vaccine confidence project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, worked with researchers on this study. She said it “exposes the paradox of Europe” which, despite being a region with among the highest income and education levels, also has the world’s highest levels of vaccine skepticism.

In poorer regions, trust levels tend to be much higher, with 95% in South Asia and 92% in Eastern Africa feeling confident that vaccines are safe and effective.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland; editing by John Stonestreet)