Officials confirm Ebola outbreak in Uganda

Task force set up to contain disease

KAMPALA, Uganda – The deadly Ebola virus has killed 14 people in western Uganda this month, Ugandan health officials said on Saturday, ending weeks of speculation about the cause of a strange disease that had many people fleeing their homes.

The officials and a World Health Organization representative told a news conference in Kampala on Saturday that there is “an outbreak of Ebola” in Uganda.

“Laboratory investigations done at the Uganda Virus Research Institute … have confirmed that the strange disease reported in Kibaale is indeed Ebola hemorrhagic fever,” the Ugandan government and WHO said in statement.

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 rumor. 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 4-month-old baby died from the disease caused by the Ebola virus, officials said.

Officials urged Ugandans to be calm, saying a national emergency task force had been set up to stop the disease from spreading far and wide.

There is no cure or vaccine for Ebola, and in Uganda, where in 2000 the disease killed 224 people and left hundreds more traumatized, 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.

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 it.

Highly infectious, quick

Ebola, which was first reported in Congo in 1976, is highly infectious and kills quickly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A CDC factsheet on Ebola says the disease is “characterized by fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, sore throat, and weakness, followed by diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain.” Scientists 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 contact with the blood or secretions of an infected person.

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