A 5-year-old boy who was diagnosed with Ebola died Wednesday in Uganda, health officials say. The boy’s younger brother and grandmother are also sick, in a worrying sign of the disease‘s spread from the large outbreak in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Announcing the two new confirmed cases, Uganda’s Ministry of Health says blood tests showed the deceased boy’s brother, 3, and grandmother, 50, tested positive for Ebola. Both of them are showing some of the disease‘s worst symptoms, the ministry said, from muscle pain and headache to vomiting blood. The two patients are now being cared for under isolation at the Bwera Hospital Ebola Treatment Unit.
Just days ago, the five-year-old boy and his mother had traveled from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Uganda.
“Eight contacts have been listed and are currently being followed up,” said Dr. Charles Olaro, the ministry’s director of clinical services, in a news release about the tragic developments.
The new patients are in western Uganda’s Kasese District, across the border from hotspots in the D.R.C.’s Ebola outbreak. The cases come after months of concerns that Ebola would spread to Uganda or other neighboring countries, as the D.R.C.’s outbreak has steadily grown since it began late last summer.
In that part of the border, “There is a lot of movement for various reasons including business, seeking medical and social services,” the World Health Organization’s office in Uganda says. The agency adds that before this week, suspected cases had led them to send 50 blood samples to be tested for Ebola — and that while none of those tested positive, the 51st sample did.
Nearly 1,400 people are confirmed or believed to have died from Ebola in the D.R.C. during the current outbreak, according to WHO figures that were released Monday. In all, there are nearly 2,100 confirmed or probable cases.
In an effort to prevent the disease from spreading in Uganda, the health ministry says it will start a “ring vaccination” of all contacts to the new cases on Friday, in an effort that will include the WHO. Some 3,500 doses of the vaccine have been shipped to the country, officials said.
“All passengers coming in from DRC will be screened,” the ministry said in a tweet Wednesday.
A rapid response team is now in the region to help trace any contacts and to help with “safe and dignified burial, surveillance, risk communication and psychosocial support,” Uganda’s ministry of health says.
Uganda’s health experts are also asking people who live along the D.R.C.-Uganda border to take a number of steps to control Ebola, from washing their hands thoroughly to avoiding “social norms like shaking hands and hugging.”
In another step, the government says it wants communities on the border to suspend large gatherings, listing everything from market days to events such as large weddings and burials.