In the Journals Plus

Program quickly detects lethal hemorrhagic fever outbreaks in Uganda

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April 2, 2018

A program in Uganda has greatly reduced the time to detect outbreaks of life-threatening hemorrhagic fever, according to researchers.

The program — named the CDC-UVRI Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Surveillance and Laboratory Program — is conducted by the CDC, the Uganda Ministry of Health and the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), and it helps to quickly contain the spread of disease, they wrote in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

“Early detection and response are key to protecting the public,” Trevor Shoemaker, MPH, a senior epidemiologist at the CDC, said in a news release. “By increasing surveillance and working together to catch outbreaks soon after they start, we can keep outbreaks small, preventing illnesses and deaths. This saves lives locally and helps prevent the further spread of deadly diseases to other countries, including the United States.”

The program’s combination of real-time surveillance, laboratory testing and emergency response could save hundreds of thousands of lives, the researchers said. It includes a high-containment laboratory for viral hemorrhagic fever (VHF) testing and rapid-response teams that can deploy within 24 hours of outbreak confirmation, among other features.

Between 2010 — when it started — and 2017, the program detected 16 outbreaks of VHF, five times the amount detected in the 10 years before the program, the researchers said. They included three outbreaks of Ebola, three of Marburg hemorrhagic fever, four of Rift Valley Fever and six of Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever. Eight of the outbreaks were stopped before they spread past the first identified patient, the researchers said. More than 11,000 blood samples were tested.

Additionally, outbreaks were identified in an average of 2.5 days, compared with an average of 2 weeks during the 10 years before the program’s start. The researchers said the results show how effective disease surveillance and response programs can be and that health officials must keep investing in them.

“The UVRI viral hemorrhagic fever program highlights the importance of continued support and investment for dedicated public health surveillance and response programs for emerging zoonotic diseases and how these can significantly reduce morbidity and mortality from continued viral hemorrhagic fever outbreaks,” they wrote. – by Joe Green

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.