Research Maps Ebola, Marburg Hotspots in Uganda Top story

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In short
The research was based on environmental variables to identify the places where Ebola and Marburg outbreaks can easily occur. Previously, Dr Nyakarahuka says, Ebola occurred in tropical areas which receive high rainfall, forested areas, where there are many trees for bats to feed on and areas with ambient temperature for Ebola and Marburg viruses.

 The districts of Kayunga, Mpigi, Kampala, Mityana and Nakasongola in Central Uganda are high-risk areas for the deadly Ebola virus. This is according to a PhD research by Makerere University academician Dr Luke Nyakarahuka.

The research was based on environmental variables to identify the places where Ebola and Marburg outbreaks can easily occur.  Previously, Dr Nyakarahuka says, Ebola occurred in tropical areas which receive high rainfall, forested areas, where there are many trees for bats to feed on and areas with ambient temperature for Ebola and Marburg viruses.

Dr Nyakarahuka, an Epidemiology and Veterinary Public Health lecturer at Makerere University says that although the mapped areas have not had outbreaks of any kind before, they were found to host favourable habitats for bats which carry Ebola and Marburg.

The same was found in Masindi, Kibale and Hoima, Kasese, Kabarole, Kamwenge, Bushenyi and Ibanda in Western Uganda. Some of these districts are close to Bundibugyo and Kibaale districts where the virus has been recorded before.

In Eastern Uganda, the areas around River Nile in Jinja and around Mt Elgon in Mbale were mapped as hotspots for Ebola.  Areas with the lowest Ebola outbreak risks, are in North Eastern Uganda especially Karamoja region and Northern Uganda especially in the districts of Kitgum and Pader.

For Marburg, the research predicts areas of western sub-regions such as Ankole, Tooro, Bunyoro, and Rwenzori region extending into DRC as areas with higher chances of an outbreak. In Eastern Uganda, the research identifies areas around Mt Elgon where Marburg viruses can find ambient temperatures.

Dr Nyakarahuka, a zoonotic disease Epidemiologist at Uganda Virus Research Institute, successfully defended the PhD research last month at Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Oslo where he was pursuing a Doctorate in Epidemiology and Veterinary Public Health.  He is the first Ugandan academician to carry out this kind of PhD research.

It is titled Ecological Niche Modeling for Filoviruses: A Risk Map for Ebola and Marburg Disease Outbreaks in Uganda.

The November 2017 Marburg outbreak in Kween District, Dr Nyakarahuka says was reported two weeks after publication of the research.  He says the government needs to heighten surveillance patterns in these areas and sensitization so that future outbreaks can be averted.

 Dr Nyakarahuka further says people should not start killing bats because not all bats cause Ebola or Marburg. The largest percentage of bats that cause Marburg and Ebola in Uganda, he says live in caves in Mountains.
 
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Uganda has registered 8 Ebola and Marburg outbreaks since 2002 when Ebola was first reported in Uganda. The Ebola types that Uganda has experienced include Zaire Ebola, Sudan Ebola and Bundibugyo Ebola.
 
Ebola and Marburg antibodies
 
 Dr Nyakarahuka's research further found Ebola and Marburg antibodies in healthy human beings who have never suffered from the two infections. This, he says meant that these people could be exposed to Ebola and Marburg viruses but recovered because of strong immunity.

During the research, Dr Nyakarahuka collected blood sample of 724 people in areas that had earlier experienced Ebola and Marburg outbreaks. The statistics show that 18 people had Sudan Ebola antibodies, one person had Bundibugyo Ebola antibodies and one person had Marburg virus antibodies.
 
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The researcher also analysed case fatality rates of the previous Ebola outbreaks in Uganda. The data that Dr Nyakarahuka analysed shows Ebola Zaire with highest death rates at 75 percent, followed by Ebola Sudan at 53 percent and Ebola Bundibugyo at 34 percent.
 
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About the author

Blanshe Musinguzi
Musinguzi Blanshe is a politics-cum-business journalist. He joined Uganda Radio Network in February 2017. Previously, he worked at Daily Monitor and Red Pepper Publications Limited. He is keenly interested in data journalism.