Deadly Ebola virus behind 'strange disease' that killed 14 and led Ugandans to flee their homes in fear
By Anthony Bond
[published] | [updated]
Weeks of speculation about the cause of a strange disease which has seen people flee their homes in western Uganda has ended after it was confirmed the deadly Ebola virus is responsible for killing 14 people this month.
Officials and a World Health Organisation (WHO) representative announced in Kampala yesterday that there is 'an outbreak of Ebola' in the country.
The Ugandan government and the WHO said in joint statement: 'Laboratory investigations done at the Uganda Virus Research Institute... have confirmed that the strange disease reported in Kibaale is indeed Ebola haemorrhagic fever.'
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Worrying: It has been confirmed that the deadly Ebola virus is responsible for killing 14 people in western Uganda this month. Officials announced the decision in Kampala, pictured, yesterday
Kibaale is a district in midwestern Uganda, where people in recent weeks have been troubled by a mysterious illness that seemed to have come from nowhere.
Ugandan health officials had been stumped as well, and spent weeks conducting laboratory tests that were at first inconclusive.
On Friday, Joaquim Saweka, the WHO representative in Uganda, told The Associated Press that investigators were 'not so sure' it was Ebola, and a Ugandan health official dismissed the possibility of Ebola as merely a rumour. It appears firm evidence of Ebola was clinched overnight.
Health officials told reporters in Kampala that the 14 dead were among 20 reported with the disease.
Two of the infected have been isolated for examination by researchers and health officials. A clinical officer and, days later, her four-month-old baby died from the disease caused by the Ebola virus, officials said.
Officials urged Ugandans to be calm, saying a national emergency taskforce had been set up to stop the disease from spreading far and wide.
Grim: An image of the Ebola virus which has left 14 dead
Horrific: It is believed a clinical officer and her four-month-old baby have died from the disease caused by the Ebola virus, pictured
There is no cure or vaccine for Ebola, and in Uganda, where in 2000 the disease killed 224 people and left hundreds more traumatised, it resurrects terrible memories.
There have been isolated cases since, such as in 2007 when an outbreak of a new strain of Ebola killed at least 37 people in Bundibugyo, a remote district close to the Congolese border, but none as deadly as in 2000.
Ebola, which manifests itself as a haemorrhagic fever, is highly infectious and kills quickly. It was first reported in 1976 in Congo and is named for the river where it was recognised, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
A CDC factsheet on Ebola says the disease is 'characterised by fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, sore throat, and weakness, followed by diarrhoea, vomiting, and stomach pain. A rash, red eyes, hiccups and internal and external bleeding may be seen in some patients.'
Scientists do not know the natural reservoir of the virus, but they suspect the first victim in an Ebola outbreak gets infected through contact with an infected animal, such as a monkey.
The virus can be transmitted through direct contact with the blood or secretions of an infected person, or objects that have been contaminated with infected secretions.
During communal funerals, for example, when the bereaved come into contact with an Ebola victim, the virus can be contracted, officials said, warning against unnecessary contact with suspected cases of Ebola.
In Kibaale, some villagers had started abandoning their homes in recent weeks to escape what they thought was an illness that had something to do with bad luck, because people were quickly falling ill and dying, and there was no immediate explanation, officials said.
Officials said now that they've verified Ebola in the area they can concentrate on controlling the disease. Ebola patients were being treated at the only major hospital in Kibaale, said Stephen Byaruhanga, the district's health secretary.
'Being a strange disease, we were shocked to learn that it was Ebola,' Byaruhanga said. 'Our only hope is that in the past when Ebola broke out in other parts of Uganda it was controlled.'
The challenge, he said, was retaining the services of all the nurses and doctors who are being asked to risk their lives in order to look after the sick.
'Their lives are at stake,' he said.
Officials also worry that other villagers suffering from other diseases might be afraid to visit the hospital for fear of catching Ebola, he said.
Video: Ugandan health ministry confirms Ebola outbreak
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