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article imageWHO considers declaring Ebola 'global emergency' as virus spreads

By Karen Graham     Jun 12, 2019 in Health
A 5-year-old boy vomiting blood became the first cross-border victim in the current Ebola outbreak on Wednesday, while his 3-year-old brother and grandmother tested positive for the disease that has killed nearly 1,400 people in Congo.
When the Ebola epidemic in DR Congo started last August, there were fears the virus would not be contained within the country's porous borders, and that fear has come to pass. On Tuesday, the World Health Organization confirmed the first case of Ebola spreading from DRC to neighboring Uganda.
The five-year-old boy and his three-year-old brother were taken by his mother from Uganda into DR Congo to visit her father - who was ill and has since died of Ebola. The family then crossed back into Uganda via an unguarded footpath, bypassing official border crossings where health officials screen travelers, according to the Associated Press.
"This epidemic is in a truly frightening phase and shows no sign of stopping," said Jeremy Farrar, an infectious disease specialist and director of the Wellcome Trust, a global health charity. "We can expect and should plan for more cases in DRC and neighboring countries.
"There are now more deaths than any other Ebola outbreak in history, bar the West Africa epidemic of 2013-16, and there can be no doubt that the situation could escalate towards those terrible levels."
Map of Uganda locating Kasese where a five-year-old boy has died from Ebola
Map of Uganda locating Kasese where a five-year-old boy has died from Ebola
Valentina BRESCHI, AFP
A real tragedy
To illustrate the difficulty in isolating people who show signs and symptoms of the virus, the five-year-old boy’s mother and grandmother, along with several other children, were stopped at a border crossing going back into Uganda. A dozen of them already showed symptoms of Ebola.
Congo’s health ministry reportedly said those 12 were put in an isolation center. However, Dr. Dominique Kabongo, a local coordinator of response teams, told The Associated Press the dozen people were actually told to remain where they were staying until transport was found to an Ebola treatment unit.
This is when the six family members quietly crossed into Uganda. “Many people are evading (border) customs and using small footpaths and it is difficult for us to follow the contacts,” Kabongo said. As it turns out, the five family members who didn't cross back into Uganda now all test positive for Ebola.
This incident also shows the virulence of the Ebola virus. The virus can spread quickly via close contact with bodily fluids of those infected and can be fatal in up to 90 percent of cases.
Soldiers have to escort health workers when they visit parts of Butembo  such is local suspicion ove...
Soldiers have to escort health workers when they visit parts of Butembo, such is local suspicion over their efforts to fight Ebola
Health teams in Uganda “are not panicking,” Henry Mwebesa, the national director of health services, told the AP. He cited the East African nation’s experience in battling previous outbreaks of Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers. And unlike DR Congo, Uganda is not embroiled in the bitter unrest and distrust of authorities prevalent in DR Congo.
While Uganda is well-prepared, Farrar said, “we can expect and should plan for more cases in (Congo) and neighboring countries. This epidemic is in a truly frightening phase and shows no sign of stopping anytime soon.”
WHO to decide on issuing Public Health Emergency
On Wednesday, WHO’s Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, announced that he’ll convene a meeting of external experts on Friday to determine whether the outbreak should officially be declared a “public health emergency of international concern.”
The WHO has only declared a public health emergency, known as a PHEIC, four times since the International Health Regulations, which govern global health emergency responses, were enacted in 2007. Enacting a PHEIC can be devastating to local economies, as well as spreading fear.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a statement Tuesday saying that DRC’s outbreak still poses a “very low” risk of transmission in the United States, even with the international spread.
More about Ebola, DR Congo, Uganda, Who, global emergency declaration
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