Why this Ebola outbreak in Uganda might be more worrisome than others

By Matt Field | October 7, 2022

Enhanced Ebola screening. The US government announced air passengers who had recently been in Uganda would travel to one of five airports for enhanced screening to detect possible Ebola infections, screenings similar to the one depicted in this 2014 photo. Credit: US Government.

Experts and government officials in Uganda and around the world are watching nervously as a rare strain of Ebola causes a widening outbreak in the East African country. The death toll from the highly lethal virus has grown to perhaps 30 people since the first confirmed case in early September, when a man fell ill in the Mubende district in central Uganda. A subsequent investigation revealed a cluster of deaths in the month before the 25-year-old died, according to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Unlike the strain of the virus that killed more than 11,000 people between 2014 and 2016 in several West African countries, the so-called Sudan strain causing the Ugandan outbreak has no approved vaccines or treatments. It’s caused several outbreaks before, including one that killed 17 people in Uganda in 2012. With the confirmed and probable cases now above 60, experts are worried about where this outbreak will end up. “It’s definitely concerning,” an expert told Nature. “The slope of that curve is pretty sharp.” Several experimental shots are in development and trials could begin this month in Uganda, according to the journal.  

This isn’t Uganda’s first bout with Ebola, and previous preparation, officials say, is already bolstering the country’s response, including the setting up of treatment centers and mobile testing facilities. Still, though, officials say that the country needs more help, as the outbreak continues to spread. “Uganda is responding well & is improving every day,” Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam, the WHO representative to the country, said in a post on a WHO twitter feed. “The country needs more support from partners to improve response efforts.”

As the outbreak a decade ago showed, Ebola can spread far and wide and sicken an enormous number of people. The West African Ebola outbreak primarily affected Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, but the disease turned up in several other countries, including the United States. To reduce the chances of that happening again, the US government is requiring passengers who’ve spent time recently in Uganda to travel through one of five designated US airports for screening. That may stop Ebola from reaching the United States, but some say more international resources are needed in Uganda.

“What I’ve heard so far really worries me,” Craig Spencer, a doctor in New York who recovered from Ebola in 2014 wrote on Twitter Thursday. “We have a history of responding slowly and imperfectly to Ebola outbreaks. … We’ve learned over & over that fires are best put out at the source.”


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Keywords: Ebola, Uganda
Topics: Biosecurity

 

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