UPDATE 6/14/2019, 1pm ET: The World Health Organization'sEmergency Committee met today to discuss the spread of Ebola outbreak and declared (for the third time) that the ongoing outbreakdoes not constitute apublic health emergency of international concern" or PHEIC. It is an emergency for theDemocratic Republic of the Congo and the region, but does not meet the criteria for an international public health emergency, the committee concluded. Original story from 6/13/2019 follows.
Local and international health officials are scrambling to smother a flare-up of Ebola in Uganda, which spread this week from a massive, months-long outbreak in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo. The outbreak has sickened 2,084 and killed 1,405 since last August.
Uganda announced its first case stemming from the outbreak on Tuesday, June 11. The case was in a 5-year-old Congolese boy who traveled across the border with family a few days earlier. The Ugandan Health Ministry reported shortly after that the boy succumbed to his infection the morning of June 12. Two of his family members also tested positive by that time: the boys 50-year-old grandmother and his 3-year-old brother.
Today, June 13, the Ministry announced that the grandmother had also passed. In an urgent meeting over the situation, officials from Uganda and the DRC mutually decided to send the remaining family back to the DRC. That includes the 3-year-old boy with a confirmed case, as well as the mother, father, a 6-month-old sibling, and their maid. Health officials noted that the latter four family members are all considered suspected cases.
With the infected 3-year-old back in the DRC, there are zero confirmed cases currently in Uganda, health officials said. However, there are three people unrelated to the family who had contact with the deceased 5-year-old and are now considered suspected cases. They are being held in isolation at an Ebola Treatment Unit in the western Ugandan town of Bwera. It sits at the border with DRC and is where the 5-year-old was being treated.
Officials have identified 27 others who had contact with either the deceased boy or the suspected cases.
As such, Uganda remains in Ebola response mode, the ministry said. The DRC donated 400 doses of Ebola vaccine, and Ugandan responders plan to begin ring-vaccinations on Friday, June 14. This effort aims to immunize case contacts and contacts-of-contacts to try to strategically thwart the spread of the disease. The World Health Organization flew in 4,000 additional doses of vaccine, which is 97.5 percent effective, according to preliminary data.
Also on Friday, the WHO will reconvene an Emergency Committee to assess whether the outbreak now constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, or PHEIC. Declaring the outbreak as such would signal the need for international responses and likely lead to more resources in curbing the virus's spread.
The outbreak in the DRC has raged since last August in DRCs North Kivu and IturiProvinces. Officials have tallied 2,084 cases as of June 11 (1,990 confirmed, 94 probable cases), with 1,405 deaths (1,311 confirmed, 94 probable). Those numbers make the outbreak the second largest recorded, following only a 2014 West Africa outbreak that sickened more than 28,000 cases and killed 11,000 people.
So far, violence and ongoing conflict have severely hampered medical responses to the outbreak. Militants have attacked medical facilities repeatedly, and last month a WHO-deployed epidemiologist was killed in an attack.
North Kivu and Ituri sit on the eastern side of the country, bordering South Sudan, Uganda, and Rwanda. But despite the local challenges in disease response efforts, WHO officials have so far determined that the outbreak did not constitute a PHEIC. Fridays meeting will be the third to assess a possible PHEIC status for this outbreak.