Nigerian health officials are concerned that the deadly disease may spread from Uganda
A Nigerian health watchdog has called on the nation to be on alert over an outbreak of Ebola in Uganda. The hemorrhagic viral disease notorious for its high mortality rate may spread into the country with air passengers, it warned.
"The likelihood of importation to Nigeria is high due to the increased air travel between Nigeria and Uganda, especially through Kenya's Nairobi airport, a regional transport hub, and other neighboring countries that share a direct border with Uganda," the statement released by the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) said.
If imported, it may spread domestically through mass gatherings of people, like political rallies, religious ceremonies or festivals, the organization warned. The national system for detecting Ebola infections is now "in alert mode," it announced.
While the risk posed by the virus is high, Nigeria has the technology, trained medics and testing capacities to "respond effectively in the event of an outbreak," the NCDC explained, citing the country's experience in dealing with an outbreak in 2014.
The epidemic nearly a decade ago was the biggest on record. The infection spread far from Western Africa, where it is endemic in animals, and reached Europe and the US. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported 28,616 suspected, probable, and confirmed cases and 11,310 deaths in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, the three nations most affected.
Health authorities in Uganda declared an Ebola emergency on September 20, after the first fatal case in three years was confirmed in the country. More patients with similar symptoms have been were reported, and as of last Sunday, Uganda had 43 confirmed cases and nine fatalities, according to the health ministry.
The outbreak was caused by the Sudan strain of the Ebola virus. It's one of the two original variants of the pathogen, identified in 1976 as the cause of a hemorrhagic fever in two separate outbreaks in Sudan and neighboring Zaire.
The strain has previously shown mortality rates between 41% and 100%, though figures were likely exacerbated by poor medical care that many infected individuals received and challenges with tracking infections.
After the 2014 outbreak showed that the virus poses a greater threat in a more interconnected world, additional effort was put into creating a vaccine against Ebola.
According to the WHO, a Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been approved by the European Medicines Agency, but it is yet to be fully tested and is not intended as an emergency response to a developing outbreak. The two doses of the medicine need to be injected 56 days apart, with the second jab designed to protect against the Sudan strain and some other variants.