The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the ongoing Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) a global health emergency on 17 July. The formal declaration – known as a “public health emergency of international concern” (PHEIC) – was issued to increase international attention and aid in stopping the spread of the virus to other countries.

As of 15 July, at least 1,676 of the 2,512 recorded Ebola cases in the outbreak have reportedly resulted in fatalities. Reports also indicate that apart from the confirmed incidents in Uganda, most of the recorded Ebola cases remain concentrated in the eastern DRC provinces of North Kivu and Ituri.

Also on 17 July, the WHO reportedly warned of the possible spread of Ebola virus in the Western region of Uganda.

According to local media, the warning came after a Congolese fisherwoman died of Ebola virus after returning to the DRC from her trip to the Mpondwe market in the Western region of Uganda on 11 July. Reports indicate that the victim had four vomiting incidents during her stay at the market in Mpondwe.

Health authorities are reportedly monitoring at least 19 other fishmongers who were listed as possible contacts in the incident and another 590 could be targeted for vaccination.

As of 17 July, no one in Uganda has currently been found to be positive for the Ebola virus.

The current Ebola outbreak is the second largest in history, following the one that was declared in West Africa in 2014-15. The previous outbreak, which was also declared as a global emergency, reportedly infected at least 28,616 people and caused 11,310 deaths.

The outbreak is considered most severe in the DRC cities of Beni, Butembo, Kalunguta, and Mabalako in North Kivu province. In Ituri, the majority of the Ebola-related fatalities and confirmed cases were reported in Mandima and Komanda.

On 14 July, health authorities announced that the first confirmed case of Ebola virus in the DRC city of Goma, a city of two million people. The patient contracted the virus when he visited and interacted with Ebola patients in Butembo.

The country’s Ministry of Health indicated that the risk of the virus spreading to the entire city, which borders Rwanda, remains low after health personnel immediately identified the people who were possibly exposed to or had interacted with the aforementioned patient.

Three people have been killed due to the Ebola outbreak in Uganda. The three fatalities were members of the family that crossed into Uganda from DRC on 9 June and were subsequently diagnosed with Ebola.

On 11 June, health authorities confirmed that a Congolese boy, who was one of the members of the aforementioned family, contracted the disease. The boy was initially treated at Kagando Hospital before being transferred to an Ebola treatment unit in Bwera but subsequently died on 12 June. On 13 June, the boy’s grandmother likewise died.

The 11 June confirmation was the first known case of Ebola virus in Uganda amid an ongoing outbreak in the DRC. Uganda has dealt with Ebola outbreaks in the past, the most recent of which was in 2012, and has implemented measures following the outbreak in neighboring DRC.

Ugandan officials have already vaccinated approximately 4,700 healthcare workers and established Ebola screening centers along the DRC border. Authorities have also identified 22 high-risk districts along the border and monitors to these areas to identify potential cases.

The Ebola virus is highly contagious and often fatal. Health care workers and those who have been in contact with Ebola patients are being vaccinated in an effort to control the spread of the virus.

Transmission may occur even through contact with deceased humans or animals. Symptoms include fever, headache, diarrhea, vomiting, and internal and external bleeding.

While hospital workers, laboratory workers and family members are at greatest risk of contracting the virus, individuals travelling to Ebola-affected countries should exercise basic health precautions including:

  • Avoid areas of known outbreaks.
  • Avoid contact with infected individuals.
  • Strict personal hygiene including frequent hand washing should be adhered to while traveling in endemic areas.
  • Report any symptoms to health officials immediately.

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