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5-year-old boy dies of Ebola as Uganda cases rise to 3

By The Associated Press
Posted 8:43AM on Wednesday 12th June 2019 ( 3 months ago )

KASINDI, Congo (AP) — A 5-year-old boy vomiting blood became the first cross-border victim of Ebola in the current outbreak on Wednesday, while two more people in Uganda tested positive for the highly contagious disease that has killed nearly 1,400 in Congo.

The boy, part of a Congolese family who crossed into Uganda earlier in the week, died overnight, the World Health Organization said. Ugandan authorities said the two new cases are his 3-year-old brother and 50-year-old grandmother, who have been isolated at a hospital near the Congo border. Uganda now has three confirmed Ebola cases.

Authorities are trying to determine how the family, exposed to the virus via a sick relative in Congo, managed to cross a border where health officials have been screening millions of travelers for months.

This has become the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history since the first cases were declared in August. A WHO expert committee has been alerted for a possible meeting on whether to declare a global health emergency now that the outbreak has crossed the border, a spokesman said.

Experts have long feared Ebola could spread to neighboring countries because of rebel attacks and community resistance hampering virus containment work in eastern Congo, one of the world's most turbulent regions. The virus can spread quickly via close contact with bodily fluids of those infected and can be fatal in up to 90% of cases.

Congo's health ministry said a dozen members of the boy's family had showed symptoms of Ebola. They were not placed in isolation and instead were told to remain where they were staying until transport was found to an Ebola treatment unit in Beni, Dr. Dominique Kabongo, coordinator of Ebola response teams in Kasindi, told the AP.

Instead half of the family quietly crossed into Uganda, while five of the others have tested positive for Ebola since being taken to Beni, Congo's health ministry said.

"Many people are evading customs and using small footpaths and it is difficult for us to follow the contacts," Kabongo said.

The family likely did not pass through official border points, where health workers screen all travelers for a high temperature and isolate those who show signs of illness.

In Uganda, where authorities had been alerted by Congolese colleagues, the boy received treatment while relatives were isolated and tested. The boy's uncle is now among seven suspected Ebola cases in Uganda, Health Minister Jane Aceng said, adding that authorities on both sides of the border would do their best to close unauthorized crossings.

Ugandan health teams "are not panicking," Henry Mwebesa, a physician and the national director of health services, told The Associated Press. He cited the East African nation's experience battling previous outbreaks of Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers.

"We have all the contingencies to contain this case," Mwebesa said. "It is not going to go beyond" the patient's family. The child's mother, who is married to a Ugandan, knew where to cross the border unofficially, he added.

In the border area where the family is thought to have crossed, surveillance teams patrolled the Ugandan side on Wednesday. Some footpaths, however, remained unguarded. Some people wade across the shallow Lubiriha River instead of using a bridge, to avoid being stopped by officials.

The "stubbornness of Congolese here" is a challenge in screening, a Ugandan Red Cross official, Francis Tumwine, told the AP at one border crossing last week. "They have failed to understand that Ebola is there, they think that it is witchcraft which is killing them."

A Congolese trader, Muhindo Kaongezekela, added: "We are not sure if there's Ebola in Congo. In Congo, if they find you with a headache, they take you to the hospital and later say they died of Ebola."

Uganda is more stable than eastern Congo, and for the first time an experimental but effective Ebola vaccine is being widely used, with more than 130,000 doses distributed. Uganda has vaccinated nearly 4,700 health workers, and WHO is shipping in another 3,500 vaccine doses this week for health workers and close contacts of those infected.

But Ebola has been especially feared in Uganda, where multiple outbreaks have occurred over the years. An outbreak in the north in 2000 infected 425 people and killed more than half of them.

The WHO expert committee has twice decided that the current outbreak, while of "deep concern," is not yet a global health emergency .

But international spread is one of the major criteria the United Nations agency considers before such a declaration. Millions of travelers along Congo's border with Uganda and Rwanda have been screened for Ebola since the outbreak began. WHO has advised against travel restrictions.

The news of a first cross-border case is "tragic but unfortunately not surprising," said Dr. Jeremy Farrar with the Wellcome Trust, which is funding vaccine research in this outbreak.

While Uganda is well-prepared with established surveillance, he added, "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."

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Muhumuza reported from Kampala, Uganda. Associated Press writer Maria Cheng in London contributed.

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Follow Africa news at https://twitter.com/AP_Africa

FILE - This Tuesday, April, 16, 2019 file photo taken in Congo shows an Ebola health worker at a treatment center in Beni, Eastern Congo. Uganda's health ministry said late Tuesday, June 11, 2019 that a 5-year-old Congolese boy who crossed into Uganda has tested positive for Ebola in what is the first cross-border case of the deadly virus since an outbreak started in neighboring Congo last year. (AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro, File)
This photo taken Monday, June 10, 2019 and released by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), shows an Ebola screening checkpoint where people crossing from Congo go through foot and hand washing with a chlorine solution and have their temperature taken, at the Bunagana border crossing with Congo, in western Uganda. Uganda's health ministry said late Tuesday, June 11, 2019 that a child in Uganda has tested positive for Ebola in the first cross-border case of the deadly virus since an outbreak started in neighboring Congo last year. (Ben Wise/International Rescue Committee via AP)
This photo taken Thursday, April 18, 2019 and released by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), shows the shores of Lake Albert near the border with Congo, at Kabakanga in Kagadi district, western Uganda. Uganda's health ministry said late Tuesday, June 11, 2019 that a child in Uganda has tested positive for Ebola in the first cross-border case of the deadly virus since an outbreak started in neighboring Congo last year. (Ben Wise/International Rescue Committee via AP)
Map locates Kasese, Uganda, where the first Ebola case outside Congo outbreak was reported; 2c x 3 1/2 inches; 96.3 mm x 88 mm;
This photo taken Thursday, April 18, 2019 and released by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), shows an Ebola-prevention information sign at the Ndaiga Health Centre II, near the shores of Lake Albert and the border with Congo, in Kagadi district, western Uganda. Uganda's health ministry said late Tuesday, June 11, 2019 that a child in Uganda has tested positive for Ebola in the first cross-border case of the deadly virus since an outbreak started in neighboring Congo last year. (Ben Wise/International Rescue Committee via AP)
This photo taken Monday, June 10, 2019 and released by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), shows an Ebola screening checkpoint where people crossing from Congo go through foot and hand washing with a chlorine solution and have their temperature taken, at the Bunagana border crossing with Congo, in western Uganda. Uganda's health ministry said late Tuesday, June 11, 2019 that a child in Uganda has tested positive for Ebola in the first cross-border case of the deadly virus since an outbreak started in neighboring Congo last year. (Ben Wise/International Rescue Committee via AP)
This photo taken Tuesday, June 11, 2019 and released by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), shows the Matanda Transit Center for newly arrived asylum seekers where arrivals, like all people crossing from Congo, go through foot and hand washing with a chlorine solution and have their temperature taken, in western Uganda near the border with Congo. Uganda's health ministry said late Tuesday, June 11, 2019 that a child in Uganda has tested positive for Ebola in the first cross-border case of the deadly virus since an outbreak started in neighboring Congo last year. (Ben Wise/International Rescue Committee via AP)
In this photo taken Tuesday, June 11, 2019 and released by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a sign is attached to a window of a new Ebola treatment unit currently under construction at the Kihihi Health Centre IV in Kanungu district, western Uganda, near the border with Congo. Uganda's health ministry said late Tuesday, June 11, 2019 that a child in Uganda has tested positive for Ebola in the first cross-border case of the deadly virus since an outbreak started in neighboring Congo last year. (Ben Wise/International Rescue Committee via AP)
This photo released by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) shows the treatment unit where the confirmed and suspected cases of Ebola are being treated Wednesday, June 12, 2019 at Bwera hospital, Kasese District, in western Uganda near the border with Congo. A 5-year-old boy vomiting blood has become the first cross-border case of Ebola in the current deadly outbreak and now authorities are trying to determine how his family, exposed to the virus, managed to cross from Congo into neighboring Uganda. (Ben Wise/International Rescue Committee via AP)
This photo released by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) shows the treatment unit where the confirmed and suspected cases of Ebola are being treated Wednesday, June 12, 2019 at Bwera hospital, Kasese District, in western Uganda near the border with Congo. A 5-year-old boy vomiting blood has become the first cross-border case of Ebola in the current deadly outbreak and now authorities are trying to determine how his family, exposed to the virus, managed to cross from Congo into neighboring Uganda. (Ben Wise/International Rescue Committee via AP)
This photo released by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) shows hospital staff and others being briefed on how to keep themselves safe, at Bwera hospital where the confirmed and suspected cases of Ebola are being treated Wednesday, June 12, 2019 in Kasese District, western Uganda, near the border with Congo. A 5-year-old boy vomiting blood has become the first cross-border case of Ebola in the current deadly outbreak and now authorities are trying to determine how his family, exposed to the virus, managed to cross from Congo into neighboring Uganda. (Ben Wise/International Rescue Committee via AP)
This photo released by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) shows hospital staff and others being briefed on how to keep themselves safe, at Bwera hospital where the confirmed and suspected cases of Ebola are being treated Wednesday, June 12, 2019 in Kasese District, western Uganda, near the border with Congo. A 5-year-old boy vomiting blood has become the first cross-border case of Ebola in the current deadly outbreak and now authorities are trying to determine how his family, exposed to the virus, managed to cross from Congo into neighboring Uganda. (Ben Wise/International Rescue Committee via AP)

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