Ebola Spreads To Major Congo Transportation Hub, Will It Spread Further?

NEW YORK – May 22, 2018 – In response to the current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo and its threat to public health, EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit organization working at the intersection of animal, environmental, and human health on a global scale, has used its novel software, FLIRT (FLIght Risk Tracker), to determine where the virus could be unintentionally spread by travelers. FLIRT is designed to help identify where emerging infectious diseases can spread via infected passengers through established passenger flight networks and includes simulations of multi-leg journeys.

According to the World Health Organization, the current Ebola outbreak began near the town of Bikoro in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s northwestern Équateur province and has now spread to the Mbandaka, the provincial capital. This begs the question: where should we be prepared for it to spread further?

Using flight data from the airports in Mbandaka, Kinshasa, and Brazzaville–those nearest Bikoro–EcoHealth Alliance has found the following cities to be most closely connected to the point of origin of the ongoing Ebola outbreak:

  1. Pointe-Noire, Republic of Congo
  2. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  3. Brazzaville, Republic of Congo
  4. Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo
  5. Brussels, Belgium
  6. Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo
  7. Paris, France
  8. Nairobi, Kenya
  9. Johannesburg, South Africa
  10. Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo

No American cities rank within the top 20. The top countries most closely connected to the point of outbreak are:

  1. Democratic Republic of Congo
  2. Republic of Congo
  3. Ethiopia
  4. Belgium
  5. France
  6. Kenya
  7. South Africa
  8. Gabon
  9. Morocco
  10. Côte d’Ivoire

The analysis ranks the United States 17th on the list, with 0.5 percent of outgoing passengers entering the country. The U.S. cities with the highest percentage (greater than 0.01 percent) of incoming passengers coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo are:

  1. New York (JFK): 0.13% of passengers coming from the Region of Interest (ROI)
  2. Miami (MIA): 0.11% of passengers coming from ROI
  3. Atlanta (ATL): 0.06% of passengers coming from ROI
  4. Boston (BOS): 0.05% of passengers coming from ROI
  5. Los Angeles (LAX): 0.05% of passengers coming from ROI
  6. Detroit (DTW): 0.04% of passengers coming from ROI
  7. Washington, D.C. (IAD): 0.02% of passengers coming from ROI
  8. Cincinnati (CVG): 0.01% of passengers coming from ROI
  9. Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW): 0.01% of passengers coming from ROI
  10. Newark (EWR): 0.01% of passengers coming from ROI
  11. Chicago (ORD): 0.01% of passengers coming from ROI
  12. Ft. Lauderdale (FLL): 0.01% of passengers coming from ROI

“While the percentage of overall passengers entering the U.S. from that region is low,” said Dr. Peter Daszak, President of EcoHealth Alliance. “With approximately half a million passengers traveling from the Democratic Republic of Congo each year, the disease requires just one infected traveler to cause a global public health emergency, and this helps us be forewarned and prepared.”

Ebola virus has an incubation period of between two and 21 days; infected persons are not contagious during the incubation period, but they are also asymptomatic, making it easy for a person to unknowingly carry the virus very far from the initial point of outbreak.

About EcoHealth Alliance
Building on over 45 years of groundbreaking science, EcoHealth Alliance is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting wildlife, environmental, and public health from the emergence of disease. Approximately 60 percent of emerging infectious diseases like Ebola, HIV, Zika, SARS, MERS, and West Nile virus have all originated in animals before spilling over to human populations. Using environmental and health data covering the past 60 years, EcoHealth Alliance scientists created the first-ever global disease hotspots map that identified at-risk regions to determine where research and field work are needed to help predict and prevent the next pandemic crisis. That work is the foundation of EcoHealth Alliance’s rigorous, science-based approach working in more than 30 countries worldwide. EcoHealth Alliance’s strength is founded on innovations in research, training, global partnerships, capacity building, and policy initiatives.
Press contact: Robert Kessler, (646) 868-4711 or kessler@ecohealthalliance.org