BWERA, Uganda — The Congolese pastor who is thought to have caused the Ebola outbreak’s spread into Uganda was unknown to health officials before he died of the disease, the World Health Organization’s emergencies chief said Thursday. That underlines the problems in tracking the virus as a WHO expert panel on Friday discusses whether to declare a global health emergency.
As a second person infected with Ebola died in Uganda, Dr. Mike Ryan told The Associated Press he did not believe the man had been on any list of high-risk Ebola contacts that health workers use to track infections and contain the outbreak.
Three of the pastor’s family members were infected with Ebola when they traveled from Uganda to Congo to visit him. His 5-year-old grandson became the first Ebola case in Uganda and the first death after several family members quietly returned home on footpaths that bypassed border screening for the disease. The boy’s grandmother also died after their return, Ugandan officials said Thursday.
“It’s an unfortunate occurrence that a pastor who’s taking care of people and providing care to people is himself infected in the line of his own work and then ultimately goes on to infect others,” Ryan said.
The pastor’s positive test for Ebola came back only after he was buried, Dr. Dominique Kabongo, coordinator of Ebola response teams in Kasindi, told the AP. Family members traditionally wash and dress the corpse.
More than 80 people attended the burial, Kabongo said.
The first cross-border cases in this Ebola outbreak — the second-deadliest in history — have prompted the WHO expert committee to again consider declaring a global health emergency after twice deciding against it. Such declarations almost always boost attention and donor funding.
Ryan said there is no evidence Ebola is spreading within Uganda and that authorities have contained the virus to the family. He said 27 people who may have been exposed are being followed. Ugandan authorities said three suspected Ebola cases not related to the family were awaiting test results.
More than 1,400 people have died in this outbreak declared in August in eastern Congo, one of the world’s most turbulent regions, where rebel attacks and resistance by community members wary of authorities have badly hampered Ebola containment work.
For months, officials have feared the virus would cross the heavily traveled border where health workers have been screening millions of people for fever and other symptoms. Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan have been preparing for possible cases.
Uganda’s health ministry on Thursday said it no longer had any confirmed Ebola cases after all members of the Congolese-Ugandan family, including the dead boy’s infected 3-year-old brother and a six-month-old baby, were sent to Congo for monitoring and experimental treatments as part of clinical trials. — (AP)