Uganda confirmed seven Ebola infections Thursday as authorities try to track down 43 contacts of known Ebola patients two days after authorities in the East African country announced an outbreak of the contagious disease.
A total of eight deaths, including one confirmed, are “attributable to the virus,” said Dr Henry Kyobe, a Ugandan military officer who is tracking Ebola cases. He spoke of a “rapidly evolving” situation where “we think cases may rise in a few days.”
The epicentre of the outbreak is the central Ugandan district of Mubende, whose main town lies along a highway into the capital, Kampala. That travel link and several crowded artisanal gold mines there are concerning, Kyobe told the World Health Organization.
Ugandan authorities have not yet found the source of the outbreak, and neither have they discovered the key first case. But they were able to confirm an Ebola outbreak of the Sudan type earlier this week after testing a sample from a 24-year-old man who had been initially treated for other illnesses, including malaria and pneumonia, when he sought care in his home town. Six others in the same area, including three children, died earlier in September after suffering what local officials called a strange illness.
There is no proven vaccine for the Sudan strain of Ebola, and “it is very critical at this point that we treat this outbreak as serious, because we may not have the advantage that we have gained in terms of the advancement in medical countermeasures,” said Dr Patrick Otim, an epidemiologist with WHO in Africa.
Ebola, which is spread by contact with bodily fluids of an infected person or contaminated materials, manifests as a deadly hemorrhagic fever. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle pain and at times internal and external bleeding.
Scientists don’t know the natural reservoir of the virus, but they suspect the first victim in an Ebola outbreak gets infected through contact with an infected animal.
Uganda has had multiple Ebola outbreaks, including one in 2000 that killed more than 200 people.
Last month authorities in Congo said a new case of Ebola in the eastern city of Beni was linked to a previous outbreak.
Congo’s 10th outbreak of Ebola in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri killed more than 2,000 people from 2018 to 2020. During that time, neighbouring Uganda reported some cases that authorities said were linked to the outbreak in Congo.