EXPLAINER | Why Uganda should still be on high alert after end of Sudan Ebola outbreak

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  • Uganda announced that the country is free of the Sudan Ebola virus.
  • The World Health Organisation says the Ebola virus can stay in the human body for between 12 and 40 months.
  • The virus can be detected in some sites in the body long after someone has been cleared.

Last week, Uganda announced that the country was free of the Sudan Ebola virus after it did not record a new case for 42 days - two virus incubation cycles.

After 55 deaths from 142 cases since September last year, Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng announced that "all transmission chains have been fully interrupted".

Not so fast

According to epidemiologist at the World Health Organisation's (WHO) regional office for Africa, Dr Patrick Otime Ramadan, "after recovery from an Ebola infection, the virus persists in the human body for a duration ranging [up to] 12 months".

It could even be there be longer, he added.

He said, "Studies have shown that it goes up to 40 months in very rare circumstances."

This is why the WHO recommends that those who survive be closely monitored within the first year.

"So, [the] WHO's recommendation is that within the first 12 months, these patients have to be followed very closely and enrolled in a programme for testing," he said.

That should be the case until it's noted through polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests that the body is finally clear of Ebola virus infection.

In men and women

Ramadan added: "There are sites within the body where the virus hides. Those are what we call immunologically privileged sites."

He said:

In men, it is the testes. It can also hide in the eyes and also in the central nervous system.

Luckily, according to WHO research, "there is no evidence that Ebola can be spread through sex or another contact with vaginal fluids from a woman who has had Ebola".

Ramadan spoke about non-immunologically privileged sites "like breast milk", where the virus can only stay for a very short time.

Vaccines 

Unfortunately, with the end of the outbreak, the three candidate vaccines produced by IAVI (called SUDV), Sabin (ChAD3), and Oxford (ChAdOx1), which were delivered to Uganda in December, will not be tested efficiently.

According to Health Policy Watch, an independent world global health tracker, there's a likelihood of immunobridging or an animal-based study.


The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.


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