CDC's Uganda-Based Viral Surveillance Program Significantly Reduces Disease Detection Time


The program can detect viral hemorrhagic fevers about 12 days faster than previous efforts.

Detecting outbreaks of infectious diseases in Uganda just got faster thanks to an innovative program from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in collaboration with the Uganda Ministry of Health (MOH), and the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI).

Launched in Uganda in 2010 and dubbed the CDC-UVRI Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Surveillance and Laboratory Program, the CDC is reporting that the program has “identified 5 times as many outbreaks between 2010 and 2017 as were documented in the decade before the program began.” That boils down to the identification of viral hemorrhagic fevers (VHF) in about 2.5 days (per detection). The previous average detection time before the introduction of the program was 2 weeks.

According to the CDC, this program is the first-of-its-kind; “it combines real-time surveillance with laboratory testing and emergency response to significantly decrease both intensity and length of VHF outbreaks in the country, potentially saving hundreds or thousands of lives.”

The article’s lead author and program lead, CDC epidemiologist Trevor Shoemaker, spoke about the importance of early detection of infectious diseases in a news release, stating, “Early detection and response are key to protecting the public. 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.”

More than 11,000 human blood samples have been tested since 2010, resulting in the confirmation of 16 outbreaks of VHFs. The CDC broke the outbreaks down as follows: Ebola (3), Marburg hemorrhagic fever (3), Rift Valley Fever (4), and Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (6).

Perhaps most importantly, though, because of the testing and surveillance, half of the outbreaks did not spread “beyond the first patient identified,” according to the news release. “One Ebola outbreak involved only 1 patient—the first documented outbreak of Ebola in Uganda that did not spread to other contacts in the community or health care facility where the patient was treated. By comparison, 2 Ebola outbreaks in 2000 and 2007, before the program, affected 425 and 131 people respectively.”

With the threat of VHFs particularly high in Uganda and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, programs to rapidly detect outbreaks are imperative to keeping the populations safe. Technical and health communications materials on how to prevent VHFs that were developed as a result of this program are now being used in multiple African countries. In addition, more research has been initiated to understand how these viruses emerge and their circulation in animals.

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