The 2022 Ebola Outbreak in Uganda – what is the situation and is it still safe to visit?

As we come to the end of the month of September 2022 Uganda has confirmed an Ebola outbreak in the country. This comes at the time the country was picking its self up from the ruins of more than two years of the covid 19 pandemic that, like in the rest of the world, had brought life to a standstill, and has caused such havoc in the livelihoods of the people of Uganda. There could not be have been a worse time than now for another deadly virus to come knocking.

The Uganda Ebola situation so far – cases and areas affected

As of the September 28, it has been announced a total of 23 Ebola cases have been confirmed and from these 5 deaths registered. However, it has also been established that tens of people could have already succumbed to the virus from as far back as last August (last month) after the current Ebola victims from the community have revealed that their kin died from a similar illness and were buried without knowing the cause of the death.

As of September 2022, Ebola cases have been confirmed in the Districts of Mubende, Kasanda and Kyegegwa. All these are located towards the western region of Uganda.

The strain of Ebola virus causing this outbreak in Uganda has been identified as the Sudan ebolavirus. This is a less transmissible strain than the Zaire Ebolavirus that caused a recent epidemic in the eastern region (Kivu) of Democratic Republic of Congo.

Uganda is no stranger to Ebola outbreaks and has had several outbreaks before. Many of the outbreaks are usually a spillover from the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo that has suffered frequent Ebola epidemics, and is currently still grappling with one. These spillovers into Uganda have mostly been managed and never resulted in a full-blown Ebola epidemic in Uganda.

The last Ebola outbreak in Uganda was about a decade ago (2014) and only about 100 cases were recorded with just 53 deaths registered.

From the previous Ebola outbreaks the Ugandan health system and its population have developed the capacity to manage the outbreaks. And, this gained experience from managing Ebola came in handy during the Covid 19 pandemic when the country was able to manage the pandemic and thus recording very few deaths in comparison to many other countries, including those with far superior health infrastructure.

The hope is that the current Ebola outbreak in Uganda will also be managed and the spread swiftly arrested.

Also, with the current Covid 19 SOPs (which can apply to Ebola) that many people have been accustomed to and many still adhere to, there is a lot of optimism that the current Ebola outbreak will not manifest into a countrywide epidemic.

Planning to visit Uganda, is it safe even when there is a reported Ebola outbreak?

We are coming to the end of the peak tourism (June – Sept) when many people book vacations to Uganda to go gorilla trekking, chimpanzee trekking, safari in Murchison Falls National Park, and do many other tours in Uganda the pearl of Africa. Many who are traveling to Uganda soon for their trips could be pondering if it is really safe to visit Uganda with this announcement of an Ebola outbreak? As a resident in Uganda, I can confidently say it is safe. The hotspots of the outbreak have been identified and the health system is doing well to contain the spread. The affected areas are far from the activity destinations. Ebola may also have a reputation of being deadly because of a high fatality rate, and it indeed arouses fear by the thought of it. However, it is not easily transmissible. The last outbreak in the country a decade ago had just about 100 individuals infected.

Unless if a full-blown Ebola epidemic across the country happens, which would take several months to happen, Uganda is safe to visit in the short term.

It is also easy to protect from Ebola, as only symptomatic cases can transmit, and transmission is through body fluids hence basic social distancing and washing of hands would be sufficient for protection.

A brief about the Ebola virus/disease

The Ebola virus which causes the Ebola Virus Disease, spreads when one comes into contact with body fluids from an infected person or animal. The symptoms of the Ebola virus infection present between 2 days to 21 days, and some of these are: headaches, sore throat, muscle pain, high temperature or fever, vomiting, diarrhea, yellowing of the eyes.

The Ebola virus can stay in the body for up to 21 days without showing any symptoms.

An infected individual that does not show symptoms (Asymptomatic) does not spread the virus, a contrast to the covid 19 virus where an asymptomatic person can still spread.

Why is Ebola dangerous?

The Ebola virus is dangerous because it has a high fatality rate of about 50%, way higher than that of Covid 19 disease which is about 10%.

Why you may not fear Ebola?

The Ebola virus is not very infectious as compared to the covid 19. The Ebola virus spreads through direct contact with body fluids of an infected individual. It is not airborne like the covid 19 (sars-cov-2) virus. With washing hands and basic social distance

Is there a cure to the Ebola Virus Disease?

There is no cure for the Ebola disease. It is treated by therapeutics to support one’s good immune system that would help beat the disease. Much like the covid 19 situation.

Is there an Ebola vaccine?

Yes, vaccines against Ebola have been successfully made but are not readily available. One of the vaccines include rVSV-ZEVOB produced in the USA and has recently been used in the DR Congo.

Note that the strain of Ebola virus in the current outbreak in Uganda is the Sudan ebolavirus which has no vaccine. The vaccine rVSV-ZEVOB is for the Zaire ebolavirus in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Research shows the strain Sudan ebolavirus is less transmissible than the Zaire ebolavirus, this offers a bit of relief.