Updated: Nov 23, 2019
The deadly Ebola outbreak that has been raging in the Democratic Republic of Congo for more than 10 months has crossed into neighboring Uganda, where authorities on Tuesday said a 5-year-old boy tested positive for the hemorrhagic fever.
This is the first time the virus has spread across international lines during what has become the second-worst outbreak in recorded history.
Uganda Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng said the boy has been isolated at an Ebola treatment unit in Kasese, a city of about 100,000 residents along the country’s western border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
International health officials have been battling the virus in two eastern provinces of Congo for 10 months, amid a tense and tenuous security situation in which dozens of health care workers have been attacked.
The outbreak has infected at least 2,062 people since it began in late July and killed 1,390, according to Congo’s health ministry.
Those numbers are likely far lower than the actual toll; families skeptical of the international response have hidden some victims as they try to nurse them back to health.
Health officials have been deeply concerned about the prospects of the virus crossing international borders in a region where cross-border trade is common and populations are highly mobile.
Aid workers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and USAID have begun training and vaccinating health care workers in Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan, all countries that neighbor the impacted parts of Congo. Almost 4,700 health care workers at 165 facilities in Uganda have received an experimental vaccine that has shown promise, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday.
To stop the spread of the virus, health officials at 80 points of entry and checkpoints have screened more than 64 million travelers, the Congolese health ministry said.
The Congolese health ministry said the boy, who lives in Uganda, entered Congo with his mother, who traveled to care for her sick father. The grandfather died on May 27 in a health zone near the rural Mabalako area, the center of the epidemic in recent weeks. At least a dozen members of the boy’s family, including seven children, were showing symptoms of Ebola when they traveled to a town on the Congo side of the border.
On Monday, six family members fled the isolation center where they were being treated and crossed the border on foot. Congolese health workers alerted Ugandan border guards that the family was coming. The boy and five other family members sought treatment at a hospital, before being transferred to a treatment unit set up specifically to handle Ebola cases.
Uganda’s Ministry of Health and the WHO deployed a rapid response team to Kasese to monitor those who have come into contact with the boy and his family.