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Uganda declares outbreak of rare Ebola strain

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Health workers use gloves and protective clothing when treating Ebola patients (Credit: WHO)

Uganda has declared an Ebola outbreak after a young man tested positive for a rare strain of the deadly virus, officials say. Eight suspected cases, as well as six suspicious deaths, are still being investigated.

The outbreak was first noticed last week when several people fell ill in Mubende, a district in central Uganda. One of them, a 24-year-old man from Ngabano village, died on Monday and tested positive for Ebola a few hours later.

The Health Ministry confirmed Tuesday that the man was suffering from Sudan Ebolavirus, a strain which was last seen in humans in 2012, when an outbreak killed 17 people. More recent cases of Ebola have involved the better-known Zaire strain.

“We want to inform the country that we have an outbreak of Ebola which we confirmed yesterday,” Diana Atwine, the health ministry’s permanent secretary, said at a news conference, according to Reuters. She said the confirmed case had high fever, diarrhoea, abdominal pains and was vomiting blood.

Meenakshi Dalal, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization, said 8 suspected cases are currently being treated at a local health facility. Six other people who recently died in the district are also being investigated, though they have not yet been classified as suspected cases.

“This is the first time in more than a decade that Uganda is recording the Ebola Sudan strain,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti of the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement. “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.”

There have been seven previous outbreaks of the Ebola Sudan strain, with four occurring in Uganda and three in Sudan. Those outbreaks have shown an average mortality rate of 57%, which is high but lower when compared to Zaire, which kills about 70% on average.

Ring vaccination with Ervebo vaccine has been highly effective in controlling recent outbreaks of Ebola, but this vaccine has only been proven to protect against the Zaire strain.

Uganda last reported an outbreak of Ebola in 2019, when three people tested positive for Ebola Zaire. All of them died. The virus was imported from neighboring DR Congo, which was battling a large outbreak at the time.

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