Originally created 10/17/00

Ebola outbreak in Uganda



GULU, Uganda - The death toll from an Ebola virus outbreak in northern Uganda rose to 35 on Monday, with 38 more people infected and officials trying to keep it from spreading, the nation's health minister said.

Minister of Health Crispus Kiyonga said some of the infected had been treated and sent home, while others were being cared for in hospital isolation units.

Professor Francis Omswa, director general of Uganda's medical services, said the epidemic was restricted to certain areas of Gulu town, 225 miles north of the capital Kampala, but that two cases had been reported in the neighboring district of Kigum.

The Ugandan ministry of health announced late Saturday that a virus claiming lives in the Gulu area was Ebola, a type of hemorrhagic fever that kills up to 90 percent of its victims.

By Sunday, the death toll was 31.

"Massive efforts are going on in the control of the spread of the disease and we are mobilizing experts local and international to help to avert the epidemic," Omswa said.

Authorities have quarantined three neighborhoods in Gulu's outskirts that they believe are the most affected.

Health authorities were discouraging people from washing clothes or their bodies in common water pools as well as cleaning the bodies of the dead, said T. Zablon, a doctor at Lacor Hospital in Gulu where some of the victims are being treated.

"We are tying our best. We are also emphasizing awareness on how not to contract the disease," Zablon said.

In the town, people fearful of contracting the disease, which has no known cure, refrained from shaking hands or any other bodily contact. At Lacor hospital, a mother wearing gloves and a mask held a baby doctors said was unlikely to survive.

Kiyonga said the British Department of International Development pledged $120,000 to help combat the spread of the virus and the U.S. Embassy said it would provide assistance.

Ebola is terrifying because of its speed and how it kills. Within four days of coming in contact with the bodily fluids of someone carrying the virus, flu-like symptoms set in, followed by vomiting and diarrhea. Ten to 15 days later, the victim "bleeds out" through the eyes, nose, ears and other bodily orifices.

Outbreaks usually only last a few weeks since the victims die faster than they are able to spread the virus. The Ebola virus then disappears, only to re-emerge later.

Four investigators from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will leave for Gulu on Monday or Tuesday to confirm the Ugandan diagnosis and determine how to contain it, CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds said.

Two World Health Organization experts are also investigating in the area.

It is not understood why some patients survive. Scientists also do not know where the virus lives when it is not infecting humans, though contact with monkeys has led to many cases in humans.

Uganda has never before recorded an outbreak of Ebola, but there have been cases of the closely related Marburg virus. Ebola was named after a river in Congo, where it was first detected in a number of villages in 1976.

Ebola gained worldwide attention in Richard Preston's 1994 best seller "The Hot Zone," which recounted how the virus turned up in research monkeys in Reston, Va. It was also the subject of the 1995 fictional film "Outbreak," starring Dustin Hoffman.

The last major Ebola outbreak struck Kikwit, Congo, in 1995, and killed 245 people. The last recorded outbreak was in Gabon in February 1997, when 10 people died.