At least three dozen people in western Uganda are now suspected to be suffering from Ebola, a highly infectious virus that has killed 14 people in the area, the World Health Organization said Tuesday. The new number is an increase from the 20 cases the group reported two days earlier.
The Ugandan Health Ministry first declared the outbreak in the Kibaale district on Saturday after the Uganda Virus Research Institute confirmed that the virus that had left patients suffering diarrhea, vomiting and fever was Ebola. The Kibaale hospital quickly created an isolation ward for suspected and confirmed Ebola sufferers and began to trace "all possible contacts" with infected people.
It urged the public to report any suspected cases and suspicious deaths and to use gloves and masks when at risk of coming into contact with infected bodily fluids. President Yoweri Museveni likewise warned Ugandans to avoid kissing, promiscuity and burying those who may have died from Ebola.
“When we handle this case well, we can eliminate Ebola quickly,” the president said Sunday.
Health officials also advised Ugandans to steer clear of public gatherings and funerals and to avoid dead animals; Ebola has been shown to spread through handling infected animals. More than 200 schools in Kibaale are expected to close at the end of this week, the New Vision newspaper reported.
In the capital, Kampala, many people were alarmed by news that one of the infected people had died at a Kampala hospital, causing fear that the virus had spread from western Uganda to the city. The World Health Organization reassured Ugandans on Tuesday that no infections had occurred outside Kibaale; the patient had been transferred to Kampala from Kibaale, it said.
The WHO also sought to clamp down on fear elsewhere, saying that Ebola outbreaks are normally localized with very small risk of spreading from country to country. The health agency said it did not think any travel or trade restrictions on Uganda were needed.
No treatment or vaccine is available for Ebola. About 1,850 cases causing more than 1,200 deaths have been documented since the virus was discovered, according to the WHO. This is the fourth time Ebola has appeared in Uganda since 2000, when an outbreak killed 224 people, the Associated Press reported.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Officials of the World Health Organization wear protective clothing Saturday as they prepare to enter Kagadi Hospital in the Kibaale district, where an outbreak of Ebola virus has been reported. Credit: Isaac Kasamani / AFP/Getty Images