For the first time since Ebola was identified in 1976, the disease could become a persistent presence. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield warned Monday that the new outbreak in Congo is so severe it may not be containable, the Washington Post reports. Most previous outbreaks have happened in remote areas, and all of them were brought under control before spreading widely and becoming entrenched. If the current outbreak, which has racked up almost 300 cases including 186 deaths as it enters its fourth month, becomes endemic in enough areas, "this will mean that we’ve lost the ability to trace contacts, stop transmission chains, and contain the outbreak," said another expert at the Capitol Hill briefing where Redfield spoke.
That would mean the deadly virus could spread unpredictably, likely impacting travel and trade in a major way. The current outbreak is happening in an active war zone in Congo, making it harder for teams to respond to the hemorrhagic fever—and making some people who are infected reluctant to visit treatment centers. One doctor recently wrote that this is the most challenging outbreak response he's seen in 18 years working in the region. Further complicating matters, health care workers are being infected—and it's already difficult for responders to track the cases, as 60% to 80% of them have no known epidemiological link to prior cases. The rate of new infections is also increasing. International public health experts need to prepare for the fact that this could "[become] more of an endemic Ebola outbreak in this region, which we’ve never really confronted," Redfield said. (She famously survived ebola, only to be killed in "silent epidemic.")