Ebola infects 6 school children in Uganda as fear of contagion grows

The virus has infected 109 people and killed 30 since September 20 in the country

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KAMPALA, Uganda – Six schoolchildren in Uganda’s capital have tested positive for Ebola, the health minister said on Wednesday, marking a serious escalation in the outbreak declared just over a month ago.

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The children, who attend three different schools in Kampala, are among at least 15 people in the city who have been confirmed to be infected with the Ebola virus, according to a statement from Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng.

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The children are members of a family exposed to the disease by a man who traveled from an Ebola-affected district, sought treatment in Kampala and died there, the statement said.

« He is responsible for infecting the family of seven, including neighbors and many others, » the statement said, speaking of the Ebola patient on the move. « We were able to get this group, plus another, thanks to the ministry’s vigilance in contact tracing and case management on the ground. »

Authorities are « tracking » 170 contacts from the schools the six children attended, he added.

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Fears that Ebola could spread far from the epicenter of the outbreak forced authorities to impose a permanent lockdown, including nightly curfews, on two of the five districts reporting Ebola cases on Oct. 16. The measures were put in place after an Ebola-infected man traveled to Kampala and died there, becoming the city’s first confirmed Ebola case.

Red Cross workers carry a body bag containing a 3-year-old boy suspected of having died of Ebola in Mubende, Uganda on October 13, 2022.
Red Cross workers carry a body bag containing a 3-year-old boy suspected of having died of Ebola in Mubende, Uganda on October 13, 2022. Photo by Luke Dray /Getty Images

Contact tracing is essential to stem the spread of contagious diseases like Ebola.

The head of the Uganda Medical Association on Tuesday urged health authorities to impose a lockdown on Kampala, a tough measure the country’s president has previously said he does not want to implement.

That official, Dr Samuel Oledo, told reporters the situation was alarming because some « people aren’t even reporting cases » of Ebola.

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Ebola, which manifests as viral hemorrhagic fever, has infected 109 people and killed 30 since September 20, when the outbreak was declared several days after the disease began spreading in a rural community in central Uganda.

Ugandan health officials in Mubende district, the epicenter, were not quick to confirm Ebola, in part because symptoms of the disease can mimic those of the more common malaria.

Ebola is spread through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids or contaminated materials. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle aches, and sometimes internal and external bleeding.

There is no proven vaccine against the Sudanese strain of Ebola circulating in the East African country of 45 million people.

Uganda has experienced several Ebola outbreaks, including one in 2000 that killed more than 200 people. The 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in West Africa killed more than 11,000 people, the highest death toll from the disease.

Ebola was discovered in 1976 during two simultaneous epidemics in South Sudan and Congo, where it occurred in a village near the Ebola River, hence the name of the disease.

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