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Uganda reports 6 new cases of rare Ebola strain

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

Six more people in central Uganda have tested positive for a rare strain of the deadly Ebola virus, according to the World Health Organization, just two days after the first case was reported. 17 suspected cases are also being investigated.

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WHO said in an update on Thursday that 7 people have tested positive for Sudan ebolavirus, including a 24-year-old man who died earlier this week. The 6 new patients – along with 10 suspected cases – are being treated at a local hospital.

Dr. Kyobe Henry Bbosa, the Ebola Incident Commander at Uganda’s Ministry of Health, said officials have also identified seven suspected cases among people who died in Mubende district earlier this month.

“The epidemic appears to have started around the beginning of September when people started to die in the small village … in a district deep in central Uganda,” Dr. Bbosa said.

Sudan ebolavirus, which is one of the six species of the ebolavirus genus, had not been found in humans since 2012, when an outbreak killed 17 people. More recent cases of Ebola involved the better-known Zaire strain.

“I think we need to be cautious because we have a relatively low number of cases historically of Sudan [Ebola] virus so I think it will be difficult to predict pathogenicity, transmissibility and other manifestations,” Prof. César Muñoz-Fontela said at a WHO briefing.

Seven previous outbreaks of Sudan ebolavirus have been recorded, with four occurring in Uganda and three in Sudan. Those outbreaks showed an average mortality rate of 57%, which is high but lower when compared to Zaire, which kills about 70% on average.

Although recent outbreaks of Ebola have been effectively controlled with the ERVEBO vaccine, current evidence suggests the shot is not effective against the Sudan variant. Six vaccine candidates are in different stages of development.

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, where a large outbreak was taking place.

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