Ebola has killed its second victim in Uganda as health chiefs fear three more have the killer virus after it spread from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A 50-year-old woman died following the first fatality on June 11 – her fiver-year-old grandson. Neither victims have been named.
A third confirmed case, a three-year-old infected boy, and his family, suspected of having Ebola, have now been repatriated to the Congo where they will receive treatment.
Uganda’s health ministry said three people who are suspected to have Ebola and are not related to the family remain in isolation, with tests pending.
The first cross-border spread of the DRC outbreak, initially announced on Wednesday, came as a huge blow to to local officials who have desperately tried to stop the spread of Ebola.
Public gatherings have now been banned in Kasese, a district in western Uganda close to the DRC border, where the woman and the boy will be buried.
More than 2,000 cases and 1,400 deaths of Ebola have been recorded in the north-eastern part of the DRC, two-thirds of which have been fatal.
More than 2,000 cases of Ebola and 1,400 deaths have been recorded in the north-eastern part of the DRC since the outbreak began last August
The family were returning to Uganda from DRC when they were stopped at the border. Suspected to have Ebola, they were supposed to be taken back to Beni. But six escaped and entered Uganda through a market. Ebola was confirmed in a five-year-old boy and his grandmother when they were taken to hospital in Kasese district
A 50-year-old woman has become the second Ebola patient to die in Uganda after being quarantined in a hospital in Bwera, pictured
The grandmother fell victim alongside her grandson who was the first fatality on. The health ministry announced Wednesday that Uganda had recorded three cases of Ebola infection in the first known cross-border spread. Pictured, an ambulance at the hospital near the border
Uganda and other neighbouring countries have been on high alert since the second worst outbreak in history began in eastern DRC last August.
Experts have warned the spread is ‘truly frightening’ because there are no signs it will stop, despite aid workers on the ground desperately trying to contain it.
A health official told AFP on a condition of anonymity: ‘The deceased has been confirmed as the grandmother of the five-year-old boy who died.
‘Both victims had attended the burial of an Ebola patient in Congo, but returned to Uganda.’
All three confirmed cases were from a single family that travelled to the DRC to care for a relative, who also died of Ebola.
While returning to Uganda, the group including several other children was stopped at a Congo’s Kasindi border post.
Congo’s health ministry said the boy was reportedly vomiting blood and a dozen of his family members were suspected to have Ebola.
They were planned to be transferred to an Ebola treatment unit in Beni, in Congo.
But six family members slipped away and crossed into Uganda through a market at Mpondwe, bypassing the official border post.
All travellers are screened at official border points for high temperature and are isolated if they show signs of illness.
Authorities in both countries now vow to step up border security.
Congolese Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga said as soon as the family crossed into Uganda, they alerted the authorities about the potential Ebola spread.
Ugandan officials found the family members at the Kagando hospital, where the boy was vomiting blood, had bloody diarrhea, muscle pain, headache, fatigue and abdominal pain.
The family were transferred to a treatment centre in Bwera when the boy’s brother and grandmother – wife of the deceased man in DRC – also showed symptoms.
A three-year-old boy is believed to still be in quarantine in a hospital in Bwera ETU, an Ebola treatment unit (pictured) Eight others are also being monitored
WHAT IS MAKING THIS OUTBREAK DIFFICULT TO STOP?
The current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been continuing for six months.
Dr Nathalie MacDermott, an expert on Ebola at Imperial College London, shared some of her thoughts on the situation with MailOnline.
Dr MacDermott said: ‘The current outbreak has posed significant challenges to medical teams on the ground.
‘The region has suffered several decades of ongoing conflict and militia activity. This has affected the ability of responders to engage with communities to provide awareness and encourage them to see medical teams early for testing and treatment.
‘There has also been significant risk to medical teams, some of whom have been attacked, and in some cases killed, by fearful community members and militia groups operating in the region.
‘As such, and despite the use of an effective vaccine, the epidemic has continued to spread to different communities.
‘This was recently exacerbated by violence preventing responders accessing affected communities. This resulted from affected communities not being able to vote in national elections.’
On June 11, the boy was confirmed to have Ebola and died later that evening, the WHO said in a report. The two other cases were confirmed on June 12.
Five family members who did not cross into Uganda who tested positive for Ebola, Congo’s health ministry said.
Today, Uganda health ministry said in a statement: ‘The DRC team proposed to repatriate six Ebola patients back to DRC to enable them access medicines.
The patients due for repratriation include one confirmed case – brother of the deceased boy – and four suspected cases who are the mother and father of the deceased boy, their six-month-old baby and their maid.
The health ministry said: ‘All the six people who entered Uganda from DRC have now been accounted for. As of now, there is no confirmed case of Ebola in Uganda.’
Uganda’s Health Minister Ruth Aceng said: ‘Three suspected cases remain in isolation at Bwera Ebola Treatment Unit. The DRC team successfully repatriated five people. We continue to follow up 27 contacts of the deceased index case alongside the three suspected cases.’
The child was buried on Wednesday in Kasese, in the west of Uganda, according to health ministry spokeswoman Emma Ainebyoona, where the grandmother will also be buried.
Family members and frontline health workers in Uganda are due to be vaccinated Friday with a new drug designed to protect them against the virus, the health ministry said.
East Africa has been on high alert since the outbreak was declared in the eastern DRC provinces of North Kivu and Ituri.
The World Health Organization is under pressure to declare the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern’.
The health body said it did not constitute as one in April, but are meeting again Friday to reassess. It would be a major shift in the level of attention devoted internationally to combating the disease.
Official figures show the death toll in the African nation now stands at 1,405 with half of the fatalities having occurred since April.
Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said: ‘News of an Ebola case confirmed in Uganda is tragic but unfortunately not surprising.
‘Uganda is very well prepared, has established surveillance and given the Merck vaccine to health care workers, but we can expect and should plan for more cases in DRC and neighbouring countries.
‘This epidemic is in a truly frightening phase and shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. There are now more deaths than any other Ebola outbreak in history, bar the West Africa Epidemic of 2013-16, and there can be no doubt that the situation could escalate towards those terrible levels.’
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
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
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.
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.
It is not clear exactly how the family members were able to cross into Uganda through a market, rather than passing through official border points, but reportedly they used a footpath.
Rwanda, which borders both countries, has announced it is tightening border surveillance.
UNICEF said it has launched an emergency Ebola response plan in Uganda.
‘As our thoughts are with this young boy’s family, this is a tragic reminder that even one case of Ebola is one too many,’ UNICEF representative in Uganda, Dr Doreen Mulenga, 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.
The WHO says an expert committee has been alerted for a possible meeting to discuss whether to declare the Ebola outbreak 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?
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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.