Since its discovery, only a few countries have really been affected by Ebola. The virus has surfaced multiple times in the Democractic Republic of Congo, in Sudan, in Gabon, and now in Uganda. This country was last hit (and hit hard) by Ebola in 2000, when an outbreak there caused at least 425 cases, and killed more than half of those it infected. Now it’s currently causing yet another outbreak, just weeks after the outbreak in the DRC was confirmed to have ended–and the strain that’s causing this one seems to be distinct from the four known types of virus we’ve seen to date. More after the jump…
A new strain of Ebola virus has infected 51 people and killed 16 in an area near Uganda’s border with Democratic Republic of Congo, U.S. health experts said on Thursday.
Analysis of samples taken from some of the victims show it is a previously unknown type of Ebola, a team at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
“This virus didn’t behave as would be expected of some of the known strains,” Dr. Tom Ksiazek, current chief of the CDC’s special pathogens branch, said in a telephone interview.
Word on the ground is that this strain may be milder than the usual suspects. Of the two strains that have caused repeated human outbreaks, Ebola Zaire is the nastiest, followed by Ebola Sudan. Another strain, Ebola Ivory Coast, has only caused one known human infection to date, and as far as we’ve seen so far, Ebola Reston is asymptomatic when it infects humans. A new strain would bring the family members up to 5.
While this outbreak has been newly reported, it’s not really new. Rather (via ProMed), this is the “mysterious outbreak” that started back in August, but tests only recently confirmed it was Ebola:
Dr Zaramba (the director general of health services) yesterday denied reports that the government had known about the deadly epidemic outbreak weeks earlier but concealed it in order not to scare away foreign dignitaries who were scheduled to attend the just concluded Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kampala.
“It would be unethical for me to keep quiet (about an epidemic outbreak). It is true we knew there was a strange disease in western Uganda but had not got the conclusive confirmation that it was Ebola until today (Thursday) morning,” he stressed.
A team is already in place in Uganda, and the CDC said “another team was waiting for an official invitation from Uganda’s government before heading there to help.” This should help nail down the number of cases and deaths, which seem to be a bit murky and contradictory from the various reports I’ve seen so far.
It’s certainly been a big few years as far as the science behind filoviruses has gone…identification of potential reservoirs, novel strains, better insights into the ecology of the viruses. Now we need to make further strides in understanding and continue to advance the research to the point where outbreaks (in both humans and non-human primates) can be prevented as well.