(By Max Delany | AFP July 30, 2012)
“Uganda’s president on Monday warned against shaking hands and other physical contact after the first death from the deadly Ebola virus in the capital Kampala.
“The Ministry of Health are tracing all the people who have had contact with the victims,” Yoweri Museveni said in a state broadcast, adding that 14 people had died in total since Ebola broke out in western Uganda three weeks ago.
One person who contracted the virus in western Uganda died in Kampala’s Mulago Hospital, Museveni said, calling on people not to shake hands to avoid the spread of the virus.
“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,” Museveni said.
“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,” he added.
Seven doctors and 13 health workers at Mulago Hospital are in quarantine after “at least one or two cases” were taken there, with one later dying, he said.
The latest outbreak started in Uganda’s western Kibale district, around 200 kilometres (125 miles) from Kampala, and around 50 kilometres from the border with Democratic Republic of Congo.
The fatal case in Kampala was a health worker who “had attended to the dead at Kagadi hospital” in Kibale, Health Minister Christine Ondoa told reporters.
She is believed to have travelled independently to Kampala — possibly on public transport — after her three-month old baby died, Ondoa added.
World Health Organisation (WHO) spokesman Tarik Jasarevic confirmed the death in Kampala, but noted that “so far no infections have occurred” there.
“I appeal to you to first of all report all cases which appear to be like Ebola, and these are high fever, vomiting, sometimes diarrhoea, and with bleeding,” Museveni added.
“When you handle this case well you can eliminate Ebola quickly.”
According to experts, despite being extremely virulent the disease is containable because it kills its victims faster than it can spread to new ones.
It has a fatality ratio of between 23 and 90 percent, according to the WHO.
Seven people suspected of having the virus have been isolated in Kigadi hospital, Ondoa said.
The nearest death to the capital previously had been in May 2011 in Bombo, 35 kilometres (21 miles) from Kampala, a city of some 1.5 million people.
The rare haemorrhagic disease, named after a small river in DR Congo, killed 37 people in western Uganda in 2007 and at least 170 in the north of the country in 2000.
However, Museveni said that the virus had not been immediately identified this time, resulting in a delay.
“The bleeding which normally accompanies Ebola did not take place initially among these patients,” he said, adding that health workers at first did not therefore realise what the problem was.
“Because of that delay the sickness spread.”
Health officials said that the source of the outbreak had yet to be confirmed but that the villages affected were located close to forests famous for several species of primates.
“The site where most of the cases occurred are close to Kibale forest where there are a lot of monkeys and birdlife,” said WHO representative for Uganda, Joaquim Saweka, adding that “so far the WHO does not recommend any restriction of movement.”
Local communities had initially also delayed reporting the outbreak because “evil spirits” had been blamed, said Ondoa.
Ebola is characterised by the sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat, often followed by vomiting, diarrhoea and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding, according to the WHO.
It spreads by direct contact with the blood or other body fluids of infected persons.
“I wish you good luck, and may God rest the souls of those who died in eternal peace,” Museveni added.”