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Uganda strives to end deadly Ebola outbreak

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A Ugandan medical staff member of the Ebola treatment unit stands in a ward wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) at Mubende Regional Hospital in Uganda on September 24, 2022.

BADRU KATUMBA/AFP/Getty


Johannesburg, South Africa — Two weeks ago, a 24-year-old man felt ill in Uganda. From September 11 to 13, he visited a private clinic several times with a high temperature, convulsions, blood in the vomitus, pain and swelling everywhere, as well as bleeding in the eyes.

He returned several times with the same symptoms to report that they were not improving. On September 15, local health authorities finally referred him to a regional hospital and isolated him as suspected viral hemorrhagic fever. Blood samples were taken that day and he died eight days after the first visit to Madudu’s local clinic. On the same day, the laboratory confirmed that he had the Sudanese Ebola virus.

Health authorities sent a team to the village to investigate and discovered what World Health Organization officials described as a “series” of deaths in the community linked to an unknown disease.

Local residents described a strange disease with sudden deaths. According to the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, officials confirmed that some of these mysterious deaths were in people who had been in contact with the 24-year-old man. The deaths are now also classified as probable cases of Ebola in Sudan.

As of Wednesday, authorities still weren’t sure if the 24-year-old man was the first person infected or if the “index case” was one of the other people who died in the area.

“I see it getting worse before it gets better,” Dr. Christopher Mabula, who runs the East African operations of the French charity Médecins Sans Frontières, told CBS News on Wednesday.

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Members of Doctors Without Borders set up an Ebola treatment facility at Mubende Regional Hospital in Uganda on September 24, 2022.

BADRU KATUMBA/AFP/Getty


He said the 24-year-old man visited three different health facilities serving three different border areas before he died, greatly increasing his potential human contact. The men’s village is also located near an active gold mine, and such places usually attract large numbers of workers from other regions, even from outside the country, with a high turnover rate.

“It can take anywhere from two to 21 days for symptoms to develop, and thanks to Uganda’s excellent road infrastructure, newly infected people can travel in any direction for some time before becoming symptomatic,” the doctor noted.

Mabula said this would make tracing all known contacts much more difficult than it was before previous Ebola outbreaks in neighboring Congo, where poor infrastructure makes it easier to contain cases.

Employees of the Ugandan Ministry of Health said Tuesday that a total of 36 cases have been reported, including 18 confirmed cases and another 18 on the probable list. This number includes 23 deaths, five among confirmed cases and 18 among probable cases. Officials have separately confirmed to CBS News that five people have died of Ebola in the current outbreak in Uganda. They say there are 19 more confirmed cases.

The Uganda Medical Association said six of the confirmed cases were health workers who became seriously ill after contracting the virus while working with known or probable cases. The head of the association said that doctors and nurses are very worried and exposed to a high risk of infection due to the lack of personal protective equipment.

Rosemary Byabashaija, the Mubende district commissioner who heads the district’s Ebola task force, said authorities had increased security at the hospital after rumors spread that some suspected Ebola patients wanted to leave the facility.

Dr Jane Ruth Acheng, Uganda’s health minister, said in a tweet on Wednesday morning that there were no confirmed cases of the virus in the capital, Kampala, and urged the public to “remain calm and vigilant”.

WHO, CDC Africa and various non-governmental organizations have sent teams to the area to support the Ugandan health service.

President Yoweri Museveni addressed the nation on Wednesday evening, ruling out a lockdown and other restrictions on movement as the country battles the outbreak. He sought to reassure his nation by stressing that the disease does not spread as easily as COVID-19 and can be controlled by avoiding contact, maintaining personal hygiene and seeking medical attention as soon as symptoms appear.

Sudanese Ebola was first reported in South Sudan in June 1976. Since then, seven outbreaks have been reported: four in Uganda and three in neighboring Sudan. The deadliest outbreak in Uganda so far was in 2000, when more than 200 people died.

The virus enters the human population through direct contact with infected animals. It is spread through bodily fluids, including saliva and blood. Fruit bats, primates, forest antelopes and porcupines have been suspected vectors.

The virus incubates in the human body from two to 21 days and can spread only after the carrier develops symptoms.

There are no licensed vaccines or treatments for or prevention of Sudanese Ebola virus disease. According to the WHO, the ERVEBO vaccine, which has recently been used to control outbreaks of other strains of Ebola, does not provide cross-protection against the Sudanese virus.

There are six candidate vaccines against the Sudanese Ebola virus in various stages of development, but none are approaching the final phase of extensive clinical trials. The WHO said its research teams are in contact with all vaccine developers in what the organization calls a “collaborative effort” to see if they are suitable for further evaluation during the current outbreak.

Health officials told CBS News that the WHO, Africa’s CDC and other agencies are “discussing” the possibility of conducting some tests on people who have been hospitalized in the country’s hospitals.



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