Ebola Outbreak in Uganda: President Warns Against Physical Contact

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This month, 14 Ugandans have died from an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in the Kibaale district in the western part of the country. The outbreak prompted Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to urge residents on Monday to avoid unnecessary physical contact and to report any suspected cases immediately to health officials

“Ebola spreads by contact when you contact each other physically. … Avoid shaking of hands, because that can cause contact through sweat, which can cause problems,” said Museveni in a state broadcast, the AFP reported. “Do not take on burying somebody who has died from symptoms that look like Ebola — instead call health workers because they know how to do it. … Avoid promiscuity because this sickness can also go through sex.”

The public has also been advised to wear gloves and masks while disinfecting any bedding or clothing of people who have been infected.

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On Monday, Stephen Byaruhanga, health secretary of the Kibaale district, said six more patients suspected to have Ebola were admitted to the hospital, potentially bringing the total number of affected patients to 26. The disease, which was localized in one village at first — nine of the deaths occurred in a single household — has now spread to other villages.

The rare, but highly infectious disease is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids or anything that has been contaminated with infected fluids. Its early symptoms include sudden onset of fever, weakness, joint and muscle pain, headache and sore throat. These symptoms are followed by vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain. Some patients also develop a skin rash, red eyes and internal and external bleeding. The disease kills quickly.

The natural reservoir of the disease remains unknown, but it is believed to originate in the rain forests of Western Africa where bats may be involved in aiding the transmission of the virus. Currently there is no specific cure or vaccine for Ebola — the disease kills 25% to 90% of patients.

This isn’t the first time the virus has plagued Uganda. In 2000, Ebola killed 224 in the northern part of the country. It surfaced again in 2007, killing 42 in western Uganda, and in 2011 there was a lone death from the disease, a 12-year-old girl from the Luwero district in central Uganda.

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One of the Kibaale patients in the current outbreak had been referred to a hospital in the capital city of Kampala, but then died back in Kibaale, the AP reports. Now, 13 health workers from Kampala’s Mulago Hospital are under quarantine.

Members of the Ministry of Health of Uganda (MoH), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are in the Kibaale district, home to about 600,000 residents, to get a better handle on the extent of the outbreak and to try to contain it. “These outbreaks have a tendency to stamp themselves out, if you will, if we can get in and…stop the chain of transmission,” CDC spokesman Tom Skinner told CNN.

The MoH has created a task force to meet daily to coordinate field response and improve neighborhood surveillance of the virus. The WHO hasn’t recommended any travel or trade restrictions to Uganda.