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News Source: nytimes.com
Uganda Discloses Greater Ebola Threat Than Previously Known
uganda cases congo

Uganda Discloses Greater Ebola Threat Than Previously Known

Uganda’s exposure to Ebola infection from the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo appeared to have increased on Thursday, as the death toll rose to two and three suspected cases were reported in a Ugandan border hospital.

The number of people in Uganda who may have been exposed to carriers of the Ebola virus expanded significantly, from eight to at least 27.

The disclosures, in a Ministry of Health update on its website, suggested an accelerating threat to Uganda from the Ebola virus, which has been ravaging eastern Congo for the past year and was reported to have spread to Uganda this week.

A 5-year-old Congolese boy who entered a border town in western Uganda with his family on June 9 died of Ebola on Wednesday, the first case in Uganda since the Congo outbreak. His 50-year-old grandmother who was traveling with him became the second fatality, the Uganda Health Ministry said on Thursday.

The spread of Ebola to Uganda has alarmed international health officials, who had expressed hope that the outbreak, centered in a recurrent conflict zone in eastern Congo, could be contained and defeated there.

The World Health Organization is convening a meeting of its International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on Friday at its headquarters in Geneva, with expectations it will declare the Ebola outbreak to be what is known as a public health emergency of international concern.

That declaration would trigger a far more aggressive response to combat the outbreak, which could lead to more stringent border controls and other travel restrictions.

The Uganda Health Ministry said five others from Congo who had been with the first victim — his mother and father, a 3-year-old sibling, a 6-month-old sibling and a maid — had all been returned to the Congo side of the border. The 3-year-old was confirmed to be infected with Ebola and the others are all suspect cases, it said.

“As of now, there is no confirmed case of Ebola in Uganda,” the ministry said. It sought to assure international travelers that the country was “safe and all our national parks and tourist sites remain open and accessible to the public.”

However, the ministry said, three suspected cases unrelated to the first two fatalities had been isolated for treatment at the hospital in Bwera, the border town where the spread of Ebola into Uganda was first reported.

The Ebola virus can lead to uncontrolled internal bleeding and death. It is transmitted through physical contact and is one of the most contagious diseases. The symptoms can take days to manifest themselves, elevating the risk of infection.

The Health Ministry said at least 27 people in Uganda may have had contact with the two people who died and the three suspected Ebola patients, raising the possibility they could be infected and may unknowingly spread the disease.

Worried that large gatherings might include potential Ebola carriers, Health Ministry officials held an extraordinary meeting Thursday with leaders of the country’s Kingdom of Rwenzururu in western Uganda, which borders Congo, who were planning a large funeral for Queen Mother Christine Mukirania, who died this month at age 85.

The ministry’s update said that all Rwenzururu officials and members of the royal family would “undergo sensitization on Ebola prior to the burial of the late queen mother to equip them with information and encourage them to disseminate it to the entire kingdom.”

As of Thursday, the Congo outbreak had infected 2,084 people in the country and killed 1,405, health officials said.