Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo SPREADS to Uganda as five-year-old is confirmed to have the killer virus in neighbouring country
- An unnamed five-year-old boy tested positive for the killer virus in Uganda
- More than 2,000 cases of Ebola have been recorded in the DRC since August
- Official figures show the death toll in the African nation now stands at 1,396
- Confirmation of a cross-border contamination is a blow to local officials
- They have been monitoring the border and isolating probable Ebola patients
The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo has spread to Uganda, health officials have confirmed.
A five-year-old boy tested positive for the killer virus in the neighbouring country, which has been on high alert for 10 months.
More than 2,000 cases of Ebola have been recorded in the north-eastern part of the DRC since the outbreak began last August.
Official figures show the death toll in the African nation now stands at 1,396, with half of the fatalities having occurred since April.
Confirmation of cross-border contamination is a blow to local officials who have been monitoring the border and isolating probable Ebola patients.
This photo shows an Ebola screening checkpoint where people crossing from Congo go through foot and hand washing with a chlorine solution and have their temperature taken, at the Bunagana border crossing with Congo, in western Uganda
An Ebola health worker is pictured at a treatment center in Beni, Eastern Congo
‘The confirmed case is a five-year-old Congolese child who travelled from the DRC with his family on 9th June 2019,’ the WHO wrote on Twitter.
‘The child and his family entered the country through Bwera border post and sought medical care [at a hospital in Kagando].’
Uganda’s health ministry and the WHO have sent a rapid response team to the western town of Kasese to trace likely cases.
The WHO post added that aid workers will vaccinate those who may have come into contact with the patient.
The unidentified child is under care and receiving supportive treatment at Bwera ETU, an Ebola treatment unit.
Two of his family members were being tested for Ebola after developing symptoms, with results expected later today.
Congo’s health ministry in a separate statement said the boy, from Mabalako, arrived on Monday at Congo’s Kasindi border post.
The Ebola number of cases diagnosed each week has rocketed in recent weeks, rising from around 30 per week on average in January to more than 100 in May
There, a dozen family members appeared to have symptoms and were transferred to an isolation center at the local hospital for observation.
Six family members then broke away while being transferred to an Ebola treatment center in Beni and crossed into Uganda.
Ugandan officials found the family members at the Kagando hospital, where the boy’s Ebola case was confirmed.
WHAT CLASSES AS AN INTERNATIONAL HEALTH EMERGENCY?
The World Health Organization has only invoked a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) four times in the past, according to The Telegraph.
These were during the last major Ebola outbreak in 2014, the Swine flu outbreak in 2009, a resurgence of Polio in 2014, and the Zika outbreak in South America in 2016.
WHO’s Emergency Committee must convene to decide on the seriousness of a disease outbreak and the threat it poses to other countries before declaring a PHEIC. These are the incidents it has deemed serious enough in the past:
2009 Swine flu epidemic
In 2009 ‘Swine flu’ was identified for the first time in Mexico and was named because it is a similar virus to one which affects pigs. The outbreak is believed to have killed as many as 575,400 people – the H1N1 strain is now just accepted as normal seasonal flu.
2014 Poliovirus resurgence
Poliovirus began to resurface in countries where it had once been eradicated, and the WHO called for a widespread vaccination programme to stop it spreading. Cameroon, Pakistan and Syria were most at risk of spreading the illness internationally.
2014 Ebola outbreak
Ebola killed at least 11,000 people across the world after it spread like wildfire through Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in 2014, 2015 and 2016. More than 28,000 people were infected in what was the worst ever outbreak of the disease.
2016 Zika outbreak
Zika, a tropical disease which can cause serious birth defects if it infects pregnant women, was the subject of an outbreak in Brazil’s capital, Rio de Janeiro, in 2016. There were fears that year’s Olympic Games would have to be cancelled after more than 200 academics wrote to the World Health Organization warning about it.
Officials from the two countries will meet today about the possibility of sending the family back to Beni in Congo for treatment, the health ministry said.
It is not clear how the family members were able to cross the border, where millions have travelers have been screened for Ebola since the outbreak began.
Ugandan health teams ‘are not panicking,’ Henry Mwebesa, a physician and the national director of health services, told The Associated Press.
He cited the country’s experience battling previous outbreaks of Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers.
‘We have all the contingencies to contain this case,’ Mr Mwebesa said. ‘It is not going to go beyond’ the patient’s family.
The family likely did not pass through official border points, where all travelers are screened for a high temperature and isolated if they show signs of illness.
The child’s mother, who is married to a Ugandan, ‘knows where to pass. She does not have to go through the official border points,’ Mr Mwebesa said.
In April, an expert committee of the WHO decided that DR Congo’s outbreak, while of ‘deep concern’, was not yet a global health emergency.
International spread of a disease is one of the major criteria WHO considers before declaring a situation to be a global health emergency.
Uganda has had multiple outbreaks of Ebola – considered one of the most lethal pathogens in existence – since 2000.
The outbreak in the DRC only appears to be getting worse – week-by-week infection rates are far higher than at any time before March.
Attacks from armed rebels – some believed to be linked to Islamic State – are slowing down the response and risking the lives of locals and aid workers.
Armed militiamen reportedly believe Ebola is a conspiracy against them and have repeatedly attacked health workers battling the epidemic.
There have been more than 120 attacks this year against aid workers, with eighty-five being wounded or killed, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Ebola killed 11,000 people and ravaged West Africa during an epidemic between 2014-15. One case was detected in Spain, Italy and the UK, respectively.
The DRC declared its tenth ever outbreak of Ebola last August in northeastern North Kivu province.
The killer virus, which causes fevers, uncontrollable bleeding and organ failure, quickly spread into the neighbouring Ituri region.
WHAT IS EBOLA AND HOW DEADLY IS IT?
Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever, killed at least 11,000 across the world after it decimated West Africa and spread rapidly over the space of two years.
That epidemic was officially declared over back in January 2016, when Liberia was announced to be Ebola-free by the WHO.
The country, rocked by back-to-back civil wars that ended in 2003, was hit the hardest by the fever, with 40 per cent of the deaths having occurred there.
Sierra Leone reported the highest number of Ebola cases, with nearly of all those infected having been residents of the nation.
WHERE DID IT BEGIN?
An analysis, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found the outbreak began in Guinea – which neighbours Liberia and Sierra Leone.
A team of international researchers were able to trace the epidemic back to a two-year-old boy in Meliandou – about 400 miles (650km) from the capital, Conakry.
Emile Ouamouno, known more commonly as Patient Zero, may have contracted the deadly virus by playing with bats in a hollow tree, a study suggested.
HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE STRUCK DOWN?
Figures show nearly 29,000 people were infected from Ebola – meaning the virus killed around 40 per cent of those it struck.
Cases and deaths were also reported in Nigeria, Mali and the US – but on a much smaller scale, with 15 fatalities between the three nations.
Health officials in Guinea reported a mysterious bug in the south-eastern regions of the country before the WHO confirmed it was Ebola.
Ebola was first identified by scientists in 1976, but the most recent outbreak dwarfed all other ones recorded in history, figures show.
HOW DID HUMANS CONTRACT THE VIRUS?
Scientists believe Ebola is most often passed to humans by fruit bats, but antelope, porcupines, gorillas and chimpanzees could also be to blame.
It can be transmitted between humans through blood, secretions and other bodily fluids of people – and surfaces – that have been infected.
IS THERE A TREATMENT?
The WHO warns that there is ‘no proven treatment’ for Ebola – but dozens of drugs and jabs are being tested in case of a similarly devastating outbreak.
Hope exists though, after an experimental vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV, protected nearly 6,000 people. The results were published in The Lancet journal.
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