Uganda's Ministry of Health on Thursday reported six new cases of Ebola, raising the total number of confirmed cases to seven.
On Tuesday, the country confirmed the first fatality from the disease after a 24-year-old man died in Mubende District, central Uganda, and was confirmed to have been infected with the virus.
“As of today, we have seven confirmed cases – one confirmed Ebola death and seven probable [Ebola] deaths. We have listed 43 contacts [of the victims] and we are doing contact tracing,” said Dr Henry Kyobe, the Ebola Incident Commander.
He added that they forecast an increase in infections but actions are underway to protect the population and health workers.
“There are trial drugs using the monoclonal antibody technology. Largely, the treatment is mainly on supportive care. This [Sudan] strain has no vaccine,” Dr Kyobe said.
“For now we are concentrating on making sure we inform the population about what it is, guiding them on the measures to be able to protect [themselves], guiding them to show us where contacts are –identify them to be able to get patients early in care.”
Meanwhile, health authorities in Uganda are increasing surveillance and contact tracing of Ebola cases, widening their nets to many more parts of the country in a bid to control the spread of disease.
Health ministry spokesperson, Emmanuel Ainebyoona, told The East African on Thursday that the ministry had mapped out 13 districts, in the proximity of the Mubende epicentre, for contact tracing with more than 42 contacts identified by Thursday.
“We have also deployed our rapid response teams to all these districts which will orient health workers and prepare them for a possible outbreak,” he said.
The rapid response units will also be tasked with activating district health task forces, risk communication to communities and evaluation of laboratory preparedness in all the 13 districts earmarked as vulnerable.
Earlier in the week, Dr Diana Atwine, Uganda’s Permanent Secretary at the Health ministry, expressed worry over the fact that the country only has in store vaccines for the Zaire strain that has twice affected it, but not for the current Sudan strain it now faces.
According to Mr Bayo Fatunmbi, the head of disease prevention and control at the World Health Organization office in Kampala, vaccines for the Sudan Strain are currently being tested.
The Sudan strain was first recorded in Sudan in 1976 and in Uganda in 2011.
Uganda has experienced three Ebola outbreaks with its deadliest being that of 2000 that killed hundreds of people, including the lead medic Dr Matthew Lukwiya.
Around the country public places, authorities have heightened surveillance and are encouraging hand washing and proper disposal of waste.
In Mubende district which is the current epicentre of the outbreak, local leaders have ordered markets and entertainment places to close while crowded parties and burial are being restricted.
On Wednesday, the ministry of health issued new measures and standard operating procedures to inform national response to curb the spread of the contagion to both health workers and the public.
These measures include hand hygiene and proper use of Personal Protective Equipment; cleaning and waste management; safety with laboratory samples; managing exposure to the virus; burial protocol; and reducing home transmission risk.
Uganda’s neighbours Kenya and South Sudan have already heightened surveillance for the disease after Kampala confirmed its first case earlier in the week.
South Sudan has stepped up vigilance along its borders with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ainebyona said that Uganda is currently not worried about the border areas since the outbreak is far from border districts.
Ebola is a highly contagious disease transmitted to people from animals and rapidly spreads through human-to-human infection.
First identified in 1976 in the DRC, the virus, whose natural host is the bat, has since set off a series of epidemics in Africa, killing around 15,000 people.
Human transmission is through body fluids, with the main symptoms being fever, vomiting, bleeding and diarrhoea.
Outbreaks are difficult to contain, especially in urban environments.
People who are infected do not become contagious until symptoms appear, which is after an incubation period of between two and 21 days.
At present, there is no licensed medication to prevent or treat Ebola, although a range of experimental drugs are in development and thousands have been vaccinated in the DRC and some neighbouring countries.
The worst epidemic in West Africa between 2013 and 2016 killed more than 11,300 alone. The DRC has had more than a dozen epidemics, the deadliest killing 2,280 people in 2020. It is currently battling another outbreak.
- Additional reporting by AFP