Minister of Health Jane Ruth Aceng.

A lethal form of plague has broken out on Uganda’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and several people are thought to have died of the disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) said hours ago.

The agency praised Ugandan health workers for vigilance and prompt action in spotting a suspected outbreak of pneumonic plague, which the WHO says is usually fatal unless detected early and treated with antibiotics.

Health Ministry reported two probable cases of the illness in Zombo District on March 5 after a 35-year-old woman died and her 23-year-old cousin reported similar symptoms, the WHO said in a report.

Additional investigation revealed the dead woman had lived in Atungulei village in Congo’s Ituri province, and her 4-year-old child had died days beforehand. Finding her sick at her child’s burial, her relatives took her to Uganda for treatment.

The cousin’s symptoms raised suspicions of plague and a preliminary rapid diagnostic test was positive for the disease. Results on additional specimens sent to Uganda’s Plague Laboratory in Arua were pending. The patient was steadily improving, the WHO report said.

55 people, including 11 health workers and people who took part in the dead woman’s funeral, had been identified as high risk contacts and were being followed up.

Three other people reportedly died of similar symptoms in Congo, the WHO said, and Congolese authorities were also investigating.

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