US begins Ebola screening at airports for travelers from Uganda

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on Thursday conducted Ebola tests for travelers who have visited Uganda in the past 21 days.

Uganda is currently battling an Ebola outbreak that has killed at least nine people in the past two weeks.

The US Embassy in Uganda consulted Travelers flying from Uganda to the United States must arrive at five selected airports — JFK, Newark, Atlanta, Chicago O’Hare or Dulles — to be screened. The embassy assured travelers that the risk of contracting Ebola is “currently low.”

The United States typically accepts about 140 passengers per day who have visited Uganda recently, and more than half of them already pass through these five airports.

A doctor disinfects the rubber boots of a medic before he leaves the Ebola isolation ward of the Mubende District Referral Hospital, in Mubende, Uganda Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Hajarah Nalwadda)

Similar steps were taken in March 2021, when travelers from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea were screened from six US airports for Ebola.

The Ugandan Ebola outbreak is disturbing to international health officials because it managed to spread for three weeks before the first case was officially reported on September 20. It also appears to be spreading with unusual speed, although the overall number of cases remains low. Ebola can remain undetected inside a human carrier for long periods of time and can be transmitted by animals.

The Associated Press

Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary Diana Atwine confirms a case of Ebola in the country at a news conference in Kampala, Uganda, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Hajarah Nalwadda)

As of Thursday, there have been 43 confirmed cases and nine deaths from the outbreak, most of them in Uganda’s central administrative and commercial center of Mubende. Six of the infections and four of the deaths occurred among health care workers. To date, no infections have been reported outside of Uganda.

People line up in the departure hall of Terminal 7 at JFK Airport in New York. (JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)

Uganda’s health ministry believes at least 18 more people may have died of Ebola before the outbreak was announced, but the bodies were buried before tests could be done.

Uganda is suffering from the relatively uncommon strain of Ebola in Sudan, for which there is currently no approved vaccine. There are six possible vaccines under development, with the most promising candidate being developed by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in Bethesda, Maryland. NIAID is reportedly considering a small shipment of its vaccine to Uganda within the next week for emergency use.

The outbreak is already the biggest Uganda has faced in 20 years and the World Health Organization (WHO) emergency director Dr. Fiona Braka warned on Thursday that “we haven’t reached the top yet.”

Braca noted that contact tracing has only been completed for about three-quarters of people exposed to Ebola since it was circulating for a few days before the outbreak was officially announced, so people carrying the highly contagious disease may have moved outside of the country. controlled area in Uganda.

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