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BMC Infect Dis. 2019 Jun 11;19(1):516. doi: 10.1186/s12879-019-4036-x.

A cholera outbreak caused by drinking contaminated river water, Bulambuli District, Eastern Uganda, March 2016.

Author information

Uganda Public Health Fellowship Program, Kampala, Uganda.
Uganda Public Health Fellowship Program, Kampala, Uganda.
Makerere University School of Medicine, Kampala, Uganda.
Bulambuli District Health Office, Bulambuli, Uganda.
Central Public Health Laboratories, Kampala, Uganda.
US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, USA.



A cholera outbreak started on 29 February in Bwikhonge Sub-county, Bulambuli District in Eastern Uganda. Local public health authorities implemented initial control measures. However, in late March, cases sharply increased in Bwikhonge Sub-county. We investigated the outbreak to determine its scope and mode of transmission, and to inform control measures.


We defined a suspected case as sudden onset of watery diarrhea from 1 March 2016 onwards in a resident of Bulambuli District. A confirmed case was a suspected case with positive stool culture for V. cholerae. We conducted descriptive epidemiologic analysis of the cases to inform the hypothesis on mode of transmission. To test the hypothesis, we conducted a case-control study involving 100 suspected case-patients and 100 asymptomatic controls, individually-matched by residence village and age. We collected seven water samples for laboratory testing.


We identified 108 suspected cases (attack rate: 1.3%, 108/8404), including 7 confirmed cases. The case-control study revealed that 78% (78/100) of case-patients compared with 51% (51/100) of control-persons usually collected drinking water from the nearby Cheptui River (ORMH = 7.8, 95% CI = 2.7-22); conversely, 35% (35/100) of case-patients compared with 54% (54/100) of control-persons usually collected drinking water from borehole pumps (ORMH = 0.31, 95% CI = 0.13-0.65). The index case in Bwikhonge Sub-county had onset on 29 February but the outbreak had been on-going in the neighbouring sub-counties in the previous 3 months. V. cholera was isolated in 2 of the 7 river water samples collected from different locations.


We concluded that this cholera outbreak was caused by drinking contaminated water from Cheptui River. We recommended boiling and/or treating drinking water, improved sanitation, distribution of chlorine tablets to the affected villages, and as a long-term solution, construction of more borehole pumps. After implementing preventive measures, the number of cases declined and completely stopped after 6th April.


Cholera; Outbreak; Uganda

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