Heartbreaking photos have revealed the devastation of families in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where Ebola has now killed at least 313 people.
The outbreak, which began in August, is the second worst ever in the world and is expected to last until the middle of next year.
More than 500 people have already caught the deadly virus in the north-east of the country, where efforts to control the outbreak are being hampered by violence.
And children are believed to make up around a third of all cases of people being infected, with experts warning they catch it from parents and medical centres.
Some 39 new cases were reported between December 4 and December 10, according to the World Health Organization’s latest situation report.
And with a general election looming next week, the possibility of more violence and protests could complicate and even put a stop to aid efforts, experts have warned.
Photos released by Reuters have shown families grieving at the funerals of children, in Beni in the North Kivu province, who died of suspected Ebola
A woman cries next to the coffin of a child who is believed to have died of Ebola in the ongoing outbreak in Democratic Republic of the Congo
More than 500 people have now been infected with Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in central Africa, with an estimated 313 dying of the disease
Photos released by Reuters have shown the funerals of children, in Beni in the North Kivu province, who died of suspected Ebola.
Experts have reported worryingly high numbers of children being struck down by Ebola in this outbreak, with youngsters accounting for a third of all cases.
But families are not allowed to be near children who died of the infection because it is still contagious after death.
Children are believed to be catching the illness at medical centres, where they have been taken with other symptoms but come into contact with the virus.
Youngsters who catch the haemorrhagic fever are at a higher risk of dying than adults because they have weaker immune systems.
Ebola typically infects adults because they are most likely to be exposed to the lethal virus, but children are just as susceptible.
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.
Ebola typically infects adults because they are most likely to be exposed to the lethal virus, but ‘worrying’ numbers of children have been affected in this outbreak, experts said
Children are thought to catch the deadly virus when they come into close contact with infected adults or from drinking breast milk if their mother has the virus
Children are thought to have made up around a third of all of the 531 cases of Ebola which have struck the Democratic Republic of the Congo since the outbreak began in August
UNICEF said more than 400 children have been left orphaned or unaccompanied in this outbreak, as patients can spend weeks in treatment centers
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 centre in Beni, the epicenter of the outbreak, ‘to assist the youngest children whose parents are isolated’ there, it added.
A story emerged last week of a six-day-old ‘miracle’ baby who survived Ebola after contracting it from her mother, who died during childbirth.
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.
But the death toll is expected to rise as the political climate remains tense and armed groups continue to fight in the region.
The country will hold elections on Sunday, December 23, when people will vote on whether to remain under a controversial president who has ruled since 2001.
DRC has never had a peaceful transition of power since the country gained its independence in 1960.
Violence has already thwarted efforts to control the outbreak, with health workers being kidnapped and attacked by armed militants.
Some WHO workers even had to flee the city of Beni in November when an explosive shell hit their hotel but did not explode in a militia attack.
And tracking suspected contacts of Ebola victims to test them for the disease remains a challenge in areas controlled by rebels.
Chals Wontewe, Oxfam’s director in the country said: ‘DRC is battling to keep Ebola under control; cases are increasing at a quicker rate and the virus has spread further.
‘Although the outbreak is still far from the scale of the West Africa epidemic, we’re operating in an extremely complex environment and facing the very real threat of more violence and instability in the run up to the elections.
‘The response could be forced to slow down, or even be suspended – every time this has happened before the virus spread further.
‘The election must be allowed to take place peacefully and all candidates and their supporters must put the well-being of the people of Congolese first, if we’re to have any hope of putting an end to the Ebola outbreak.’
When children die their parents are not allowed to handle them because Ebola can continue to spread even after death because it lives in people’s bodily fluids
A story emerged last week of a six-day-old ‘miracle’ baby who survived Ebola after contracting it from her mother, who died during childbirth, but many more children have died
A general election planned for Sunday could cause more outbreaks of violence in the central African country, which experts warn may interfere with or even put a stop to health workers’ efforts to control the outbreak
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 hasn’t changed, but scientists are now tracking the effects of different medications.
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.
Last week, officials announced more cases are being diagnosed in the city of Butembo, 35 miles (56km) away from Beni, the centre of the outbreak.
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.
WHAT IS EBOLA AND HOW DEADLY IS IT?
Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever, killed at least 11,000 across the world after it decimated West Africa and spread rapidly over the space of two years.
That epidemic was officially declared over back in January 2016, when Liberia was announced to be Ebola-free by the WHO.
The country, rocked by back-to-back civil wars that ended in 2003, was hit the hardest by the fever, with 40 per cent of the deaths having occurred there.
Sierra Leone reported the highest number of Ebola cases, with nearly of all those infected having been residents of the nation.
WHERE DID IT BEGIN?
An analysis, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found the outbreak began in Guinea – which neighbours Liberia and Sierra Leone.
A team of international researchers were able to trace the epidemic back to a two-year-old boy in Meliandou – about 400 miles (650km) from the capital, Conakry.
Emile Ouamouno, known more commonly as Patient Zero, may have contracted the deadly virus by playing with bats in a hollow tree, a study suggested.
HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE STRUCK DOWN?
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Figures show nearly 29,000 people were infected from Ebola – meaning the virus killed around 40 per cent of those it struck.
Cases and deaths were also reported in Nigeria, Mali and the US – but on a much smaller scale, with 15 fatalities between the three nations.
Health officials in Guinea reported a mysterious bug in the south-eastern regions of the country before the WHO confirmed it was Ebola.
Ebola was first identified by scientists in 1976, but the most recent outbreak dwarfed all other ones recorded in history, figures show.
HOW DID HUMANS CONTRACT THE VIRUS?
Scientists believe Ebola is most often passed to humans by fruit bats, but antelope, porcupines, gorillas and chimpanzees could also be to blame.
It can be transmitted between humans through blood, secretions and other bodily fluids of people – and surfaces – that have been infected.
IS THERE A TREATMENT?
The WHO warns that there is ‘no proven treatment’ for Ebola – but dozens of drugs and jabs are being tested in case of a similarly devastating outbreak.
Hope exists though, after an experimental vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV, protected nearly 6,000 people. The results were published in The Lancet journal.