Oct 7, 2022 - Health

What we know about the unfolding Ebola outbreak in Uganda

A medical worker is seen after disinfecting a demarcated Ebola treatment center at the Mubende Regional Hospital in Mubende District, Uganda.

A medical worker at the Ebola treatment center in Mubende District, Uganda. Photo: Nicholas Kajoba/Xinhua via Getty Images

A deadly Ebola outbreak in Uganda has led to dozens of cases and deaths so far, prompting international response and containment efforts.

The big picture: This is the first time in more than 10 years that the rare Sudan strain of Ebola has been found in Uganda. There is no vaccine available for this specific variant yet.

  • Uganda has had six previous Ebola outbreaks since 2000, according to the CDC.

Uganda Ebola outbreak: What we know

Ugandan health authorities declared the Ebola outbreak on Sept. 20 after a case of the rare Sudan strain was detected in the Mubende District, according to the United Nations.

U.S. adds travel screening

The U.S. announced Thursday it will begin screening air passengers from Uganda for Ebola, Axios' Erin Doherty reports.

  • Flights with passengers from Uganda will be redirected to five U.S. airports in New York, Newark, Atlanta, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
  • No cases of Ebola have been discovered outside of Uganda and the risk of the virus remains low domestically, the U.S. Embassy in Uganda said Thursday.

Flashback: The 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa spread throughout the world, hitting the U.S., the United Kingdom, Italy, and several other countries.

  • More than 11,000 people died and 28,600 were infected in the outbreak, per the CDC.

What Ebola does

Ebola symptoms can show up anywhere between two days and three weeks after exposure, according to the CDC. On average, symptoms arrive between eight and 10 days after.

  • Usually, fever, aches and pains, and fatigue set in before other "wet" symptoms, such as diarrhea and vomiting, show up.
  • In the past, fatality rates connected to the Sudan strain ranged from 41% to 100%, the UN said.

Vaccines for Sudan strain

There are no approved vaccines for the "relatively rare" Sudan strain, according to Doctors Without Borders. Two vaccines exist for the Zaire strain of Ebola.

  • There are six candidates for a potential vaccine for the Sudan variant, per STAT News. The World Health Organization has had ongoing discussions about which of the vaccines could be used in an upcoming clinical trial in Uganda.

Treatments for Ebola

Monoclonal antibody treatments have "improved the chances of survival" for those with the Zaire strain, according to Doctors Without Borders, but the "antibodies are not effective against the Sudan strain of the disease."

  • Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has established a 36-bed Ebola treatment unit at the Mubende hospital in Uganda and is setting up another unit in Madudu.

The role of race in the global response

In 2014, the outbreak in West Africa led to multiple reports of racial profiling in the U.S., where people of African descent were stigmatized, despite having no link to the disease.

  • "Public health responders from outside West Africa were themselves hampered by stigmatization," researchers at York University in Toronto, Canada, wrote in 2015. "Western hospitals were reluctant to allow medical staff to go to West Africa, or take in Ebola-infected patients, due to worries of being labelled as the 'Ebola hospital' in their community, or because of concerns that taking such actions would cause anxiety amongst in-house hospital staff."
  • The researchers also said the West's destructive resource extraction, such as mining, in African countries helped create "the conditions in which the Ebola epidemic emerged."
  • The current outbreak shows "why it’s so urgent that all countries – individually and as a global community — invest in strengthening their defences against outbreaks that can devastate families and communities, and cripple societies and economies," the WHO says.

What's next

Doctors Without Borders has called on communities to conduct contact tracing and screening to help slow the spread.

  • “Uganda is no stranger to effective Ebola control," said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, in a statement. “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.”

Go deeper: Uganda declares Ebola outbreak after finding rare strain

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