KAMPALA – Two more people, including a child, are suspected to have died of the Ebola virus while 11 more have been put in isolation in western Uganda where the deadly haemorrhagic fever was first confirmed last Friday, health workers said on Tuesday.
So far 14 people have died of the disease and Ugandan officials fear a repeat of an outbreak in 2000, the most devastating to date, when 425 people were infected, more than half of whom died.
Dan Kyamanywa, health officer for Kibaale district where the outbreak had started, told Reuters by telephone that villagers had called medical officials on Tuesday to report that two more people had died, including a 5-year old boy.
Kyamanywa said the latest deaths also occurred in Kibaale, about 170 km (100 miles) west of the capital, and near the Democratic Republic of Congo where the virus first emerged in 1976, taking its name from the Ebola River.
“We got calls this morning about these two deaths which occurred in two different villages yesterday (Monday) evening,” he said. “The team that we sent says the initial clinical signs that the patients exhibited are typical of Ebola … also since yesterday, we have admitted 11 more suspected Ebola patients who are now in isolation.”
On Monday Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni advised people to avoid shaking hands, casual sex and do-it-yourself burials to reduce the chance of contracting Ebola virus.
Kiiza Xavier, a farmer in Kibaale’s Buyanja county said news of the Ebola outbreak was spreading panic among the population.
“People here love their drinking for instance, but now they’re too scared to go to bars as they normally do daily,” he said. “Proprietors of lodges are also seeing their incomes shrink because people have been advised to avoid sex.”
There is no treatment for Ebola, which is transmitted by close contact and body fluids such as saliva, vomit, faeces, sweat, semen and blood.
In the capital Kampala where a health worker from Kibaale, Clare Muhumuza, died on Friday, residents were fast abandoning handshakes for fear of contracting the disease.
Some said, however, they found that culturally embarrassing.
“Obviously the thought of catching Ebola scares me to the bone and I would do anything to avoid it,” said Ben Tumwebaze, 28, a motorcycle rider in Kampala.
“But if you meet a good friend especially one you haven’t seen in a long time and refuse to shake his or her hand, it might be misunderstood or create hard feelings between both of you.”