An Ebola outbreak is emerging in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and a nonprofit that studies infectious diseases identified where it could spread based on flight patterns.
So far, 58 cases believed to be Ebola, including 27 deaths, have been reported from three spots in the DRC's Equateur Province. World Health Organization officials this week started administering Merck's experimental Ebola vaccine to health workers in affected areas.
EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit that studies outbreaks, used software to identify where Ebola could spread through infected passengers. The system used flight patterns from the airports in Mbandaka, Kinshasa and Brazzaville, those nearest to Bikoro, where the outbreak started.
This doesn't mean Ebola will make it to these cities, said EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak. Rather, the findings should encourage officials in these places to prepare so they're not scrambling if it does.
"The problem with diseases like Ebola, the minute a case is reported the public overreacts, which is natural because Ebola is a scary disease," Daszak said. "The breakdown of logistics is too late to get properly organized. Health authorities need to get outbreak teams assembled and ready. Communication needs to be set up to get ready."
EcoHealth Alliance found these cities are the most closely connected to the point of origin of the ongoing 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
Ebola spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids. Authorities are scrambling to contain this outbreak and prevent it from growing into one like the 2014 West African outbreak, which was the deadliest occurrence of the disease since it was discovered in 1976.
Authorities in DRC know what they're doing, Daszak said. This is the ninth outbreak of Ebola over the last four decades in the country, with the most recent one being last May, according to WHO.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CNBC earlier this month that his agency is monitoring this situation "very closely" but health officials are "in a very different posture" than they were during the West African outbreak.