By Mary Hearty

Uganda has declared an Ebola outbreak  after a case of the relatively rare Sudan strain was confirmed from a sample taken in Mubende district, central part of the country.

The Uganda Virus Research Institute confirmed the case after testing a sample taken from a 24-year-old male.This follows an investigation by the National Rapid Response team of six suspicious deaths that have occurred in the district this month. There are currently eight suspected cases who are receiving care in a health facility.

“This is the first time in more than a decade that Uganda is recording the Ebola Sudan strain. We are working closely with the national health authorities to investigate the source of this outbreak while supporting the efforts to quickly roll out effective control measures,” Dr Matshidiso Moeti said, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa.

“Uganda is no stranger to effective Ebola control. Thanks to its expertise, action has been taken to quickly to detect the virus and we can bank on this knowledge to halt the spread of infections.”

There have been seven previous outbreaks of the Ebola Sudan strain, with four occurring in Uganda and three in Sudan. Uganda last reported an outbreak of Ebola Sudan in 2012. In 2019, the country experienced an outbreak of Ebola Zaire. The virus was imported from neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo which was battling a large epidemic in its north-eastern region.

WHO is helping Ugandan health authorities with the investigation and is deploying staff to the affected area. The Organization has dispatched supplies to support the care of patients and is sending a tent that will be used to isolate patients.

While ring vaccination of high-risk people with Ervebo (rVSV-ZEBOV) vaccine has been highly effective in controlling the spread of Ebola in recent outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere, this vaccine has only been approved to protect against the Zaire strain. Another vaccine produced by Johnson and Johnson may be effective but has yet to be specifically tested against the Sudan strain.

Ebola is a severe, often fatal illness affecting humans and other primates. The disease is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals such as fruit bats, chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, forest antelope or porcupines found ill or dead or in the rainforest.

The WHO reports that the incubation period of the disease, that is, the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms, is from two to 21 days. A person infected with Ebola cannot spread the disease until they develop symptoms.

Symptoms of Ebola include: fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache, and sore throat; followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, symptoms of impaired kidney and liver function

In some cases, the symptoms manifest in in form of both internal and external bleeding, for example, oozing from the gums, or blood in the stools.

Ebola has six different strains, three of which (Bundibugyo, Sudan and Zaire) have previously caused large outbreaks. Case fatality rates of the Sudan strain have varied from 41% to 100% in past outbreaks. Early initiation of supportive treatment has been shown to significantly reduce deaths from Ebola.