NAIROBI, Kenya — An Ebola outbreak in Uganda, caused by a strain for which there is no approved vaccine or drug treatment, is stoking fears in East Africa as authorities scramble to contain the virus that has already caused 35 confirmed infections and seven deaths.
Scientists and health officials are now pushing to begin clinical trials of two experimental vaccines to protect against this strain, which originated in Sudan in 1976. Although relatively new and potent Ebola vaccines exist, they do not protect against the Ebola strain. Sudan, complicating efforts. to quickly eradicate the disease before it overwhelms the nation’s fragile health care system.
In central Uganda, where the cases were reported, at least six medical workers have contracted the virus, prompting some of their colleagues to request transfer elsewhere. Parents, worried that their children will catch the highly contagious virus, are removing them from schools. And in a nation that has faced multiple Ebola outbreaks since reporting its first case in 2000, concerns remain that another fast-spreading virus could precipitate restrictions that would devastate an economy still reeling from coronavirus shutdowns.
“The whole situation worries me a lot,” Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam, the World Health Organization’s representative in Uganda, said in a telephone interview.
With the virus spreading to a fourth district on Friday and affecting an area covering a radius of more than 75 miles, “we are at a disadvantage,” he said.
Ebola is a highly contagious disease that is transmitted through contact with sick or dead people or animals, causing fever, fatigue, diarrhea and internal and external bleeding. The 2014-16 outbreak in West Africa was the deadliest Ebola epidemic, killing over 11,300 peoplefollowed by the 2018 outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that killed 2,280 people.
So far Ugandan officials have ruled out issuing stay-at-home orders or curfews, or restricting movement at schools, markets or places of worship.
“There is no need for anxiety, panic, restriction of movement or unnecessary closure of public places,” President Yoweri Museveni said after televised speech this week. Mr. Museveni, who introduced strict lockdowns during the start of the coronavirus pandemic two years ago, said his nation had the ability to control the Ebola virus.
Uganda is also working with neighboring countries, including Rwanda and Kenyato strengthen surveillance at land borders and at airports.
The latest outbreak in Uganda was made public on September 20, when health officials announced they had confirmed a case in a 24-year-old man who had been admitted to a hospital in Mubende district, some 90 miles from the capital Kampala. .
The patient had developed symptoms, including a high fever and bleeding eyes, since 9/11 and had traveled to various clinics seeking help. He was finally isolated and hospitalized on September 15, but died five days later.
In his televised address, Museveni said the patient had said that people with similar symptoms from his village had also died.
the delay in identify and trace the first human case, coupled with the fact that it was reported in a district adjoining a key highway, has raised concerns that the virus has spread to major urban centers and neighboring countries. the WHO has said there were at least 18 more probable deaths and 19 more infections linked to the current outbreak.
The Sudanese strain of the virus what was last detected by Uganda in 2012. Infected people cannot spread the virus until symptoms appear, which can appear after an incubation period ranging from two to 21 days.
Existing vaccines, such as the Ervebo injectable vaccine, which was successful in combating the Zaire strain in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, do not protect against the Sudan strain.
But experts expect that to change soon.
Mr. Yonas said at least six candidate vaccines they were at different stages of development that can possibly protect against the strain of Sudan. Two of those vaccines could move on to a clinical trial in Uganda in the coming weeks after facing regulatory and ethical reviews by the Ugandan government.
The two vaccines likely to go ahead are being developed by the Washington-based Sabin Vaccine Institute and the University of Oxford. If approved, the single-dose Sabin vaccine would likely be the first in the line of testing. As new evidence emerges on the remaining candidate vaccines, the WHO said it would work with an independent group of experts to help assess their suitability.
For now, health officials and various non-governmental organizations are responding to the crisis by training medical workers, setting up new isolation units and providing more laboratories for testing.
Officials have also launched multiple outreach campaigns to educate the public on how to protect themselves, not stigmatize those infected and inform those showing symptoms, said Oluma Jacob, a health adviser for Medical Teams International, an aid group responding to the outbreak. .
This was done, he said, because “there was fear and a lot of panic in the community” when the cases were first reported in central Uganda.
That panic was evident among parents in the Mubende district, where the first case was detected.
Nkwesiga Maxim, principal of St. Kizito Madudu Roman Catholic primary school in Mubende, said more than half of the school’s students had not attended classes.
“We are too scared,” he said.
His sentiments were echoed by frontline health workers who say the lack of adequate compensation and protection: particularly for medical interns — which puts their lives at risk. The six healthcare workers who were infected included four doctors, an anesthesiologist and a medical student, Museveni said. On Saturday, Uganda’s health minister announced that one of the doctors had died.
Luswata Herbert, general secretary of the Uganda Medical Association, said that if the government did not remedy the situation quickly, “health workers will refuse to treat patients because they fear for their lives and rights.”
white musinguzi information provided from Kampala, Uganda.