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UGANDA: Ebola death toll up to 28

KAMPALA, 10 December 2007 (IRIN) - The death toll in the Ebola outbreak in western Uganda has risen to 28 out of 112 people infected with the deadly virus, with a sense of fear spreading among the population, officials said.

Sam Okware, head of the country’s taskforce on the Ebola outbreak, said his office was receiving calls from around the country, with people believing that any ailment involving blood was Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever that has spread mainly in the western district of Bundibugyo.

"Any patient who has some blood coming out of the body opening has become an alert for people. We have been running around collecting cases, but many have not been within the description of the disease," Okware told IRIN on 10 December. "We have been helping people to bury those who have died under mysterious circumstances - like a man who died on the streets of Kampala and the people just took off.

"It shows awareness is rising among the public," he added.

A government official in Bundibugyo, Sam Kazinga, said three male patients, including a medical worker, died on 9 December, while seven new cases were admitted to the two isolation centres in the district on the same day. Two doctors who had been helping in the fight against the virus have died of the disease.

"Since the epidemic broke out in my district the cumulative cases have risen to 112 with 28 deaths," said Kazinga.

Okware said efforts to combat the Ebola outbreak have been boosted by the establishment of a laboratory with help from the US Centers for Disease Control at the Ugandan virus research institute. "We started doing the tests in the morning and we shall now be able to get test results within 24 hours, which makes response quicker," said Okware.

He added that some of the suspected cases had turned out to be false alarms, with the exception of one family in Kasese district, which has been under quarantine. “They took care of an Ebola patient and a man and his son have since fallen sick, but we shall confirm their status later today [10 December]."

On the positive side, six Ebola patients have been discharged from the two isolation wards in Bundibugyo district hospital after they showed considerable improvement, Kazinga said.

When the disease broke out in September, health workers in Bundibugyo thought it was one of the many common ailments prevalent among the 250,000 population, mainly farmers of cocoa, rice and vanilla and small-scale cattle-raisers.

According to the Sam Zaramba, Uganda's director-general of health services, the disease could have spread unnoticed in the ensuing medical confusion, with its characteristic haemorrhaging obscured by companion ailments, only to emerge when cases were tested at hospital. This presentation, he said, made health workers think the disease was a “normal" ailment.

An outbreak killed at least 170 people in Uganda's northern Gulu district in 2000. Another recent outbreak killed at least 26 people in DRC's West Kasai region.

The Ebola virus was first identified in 1976 in Sudan and in a nearby region of Democratic Republic of Congo, then Zaire. Outbreaks have also occurred in Côte d'Ivoire and Gabon.

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Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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