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story.lead_photo.caption In this photo taken on Sunday, May 13, 2018, a health worker sprays disinfectant on officials outside an Ebola treatment center in Bikoro Democratic Republic of Congo. Congo's latest Ebola outbreak has spread to a city of more than 1 million people, a worrying shift as the deadly virus risks traveling more easily in densely populated areas. Two suspected cases of hemorrhagic fever were reported in the Wangata health zones that include Mbandaka, the capital of northwestern Equateur province. The city is about 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Bikoro, the rural area where the outbreak was announced last week, said Congo's Health Minister Oly Ilunga. (AP Photo/John Bompengo)

KINSHASA, Congo -- Congo will begin administering an experimental Ebola vaccine today in Mbandaka, the northwestern city of 1.2 million people where the deadly disease has infected some residents, Congo's health minister announced Sunday.

"The vaccination campaign ... will target, first, the health staff, the contacts of the sick and the contacts of the contacts," Health Minister Oly Ilunga said.

The death toll of the current Ebola outbreak around Congo has risen to 26.

Initially, the campaign will target 600 people, Ilunga said. Officials are working urgently to prevent the disease from spreading beyond Mbandaka. The city lies on the Congo River, a busy traffic corridor, and is an hour's flight from the capital, Kinshasa.

More than 4,000 doses are already in Congo and more are on the way, according to officials. The vaccine is still in the test stages, but it was effective in the West Africa outbreak a few years ago.

Four new cases have been confirmed as Ebola, the Health Ministry said in a statement released early Sunday.

President Joseph Kabila and his Cabinet agreed Saturday to increase funds for the Ebola emergency to more than $4 million. The Cabinet also endorsed the decision to provide free health care in the affected areas and to provide special care to all Ebola victims and their relatives.

The spread of Ebola from a rural area to Mbandaka has raised alarm as Ebola can spread more quickly in urban centers. The fever can cause severe internal bleeding that is often fatal.

The risk of Ebola spreading within Congo is "very high," and the disease could also move into nine neighboring countries, the World Health Organization has warned. The agency, however, stopped short of declaring the outbreak a global health emergency, saying there should not be restrictions to international travel or trade.

While Congo has contained several Ebola outbreaks in the past, all of them were based in remote, rural areas. The virus has twice made it to Kinshasa, a city of 10 million people, but was effectively contained.

The outbreak was declared more than a week ago in Congo's remote northwest.

The U.S.' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already mobilized its country office in Congo, and it has assembled a team of about a dozen experts who are set to deploy to Congo this week. Their expertise includes infection control, contact tracing, and emergency operations management.

There is no specific treatment for Ebola.

A Section on 05/21/2018

Print Headline: Congo to begin Ebola vaccinations

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