Ebola Just Spread Outside the Congo for the First Time Since the Outbreak Began

(KAMPALA, Uganda) — A child in 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, Uganda’s health ministry said late Tuesday, in a blow to efforts by health workers who for months sought to prevent contamination across the heavily traveled border.

The patient, a 5-year-old Congolese boy, has been isolated at a hospital in a district near the Congo border, Ugandan Health Minister Jane Aceng told reporters.

The announcement puts new pressure on the World Health Organization to declare the Ebola outbreak — the second-deadliest in history — a global health emergency.

In April a WHO expert committee decided that the outbreak, while of “deep concern,” was not yet a global health emergency.

International spread of a disease as contagious as Ebola is one of the major criteria WHO considers before declaring a situation to be a global health emergency.

The Congolese boy crossed into Uganda on June 9 with his family through the Bwera border post, WHO said in a statement. He sought treatment at Kagando hospital and was transferred to Bwera Ebola treatment unit, WHO said.

Confirmation of Ebola was made on Tuesday by the Uganda Virus Institute. “The ministry of health and WHO have dispatched a rapid response team to Kasese to identify other people who may be at risk,” WHO said.

There have been more than 2,000 confirmed and probable cases of the Ebola virus in Congo since August, with nearly 1,400 deaths.

The disease is spread mainly through contact with the bodily fluids of those infected. For the first time an experimental but effective Ebola vaccine is being widely used, and Uganda has vaccinated nearly 4,700 health workers, WHO said.

Uganda has had multiple outbreaks of Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers since 2000.

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