Ugandan officials closed schools and banned
funerals as another 10 Ebola cases were diagnosed Tuesday, and the
death toll from the highly infectious disease was at least 39.
At Locar Hospital, an isolation ward was set up for Ebola
victims, where they were made as comfortable as possible as the
disease takes its course. Nurses and doctors dressed in surgical
gear attended to patients in the spartan, communal rooms.
Health workers and red cross volunteers attended crash courses
on how to contain the epidemic before being sent out to warn people
of the disease and identify new cases.
There is no cure for this type of hemorraghic fever, which kills
up to 90 percent of its victims and, like the common cold, is
transmitted through bodily contact.
The total number of cases has risen to 81, with 39 people
confirmed dead from the disease in Gulu district, said Okat Lokach,
acting director of health services. He said two ambulances were
being used to bring more suspected cases to two hospitals, but that
training health workers how to deal with Ebola victims was the top
One doctor and two nurses died while treating Ebola patients,
before the diagnosis was made, said Lt. Col. Walter Ochola,
chairman of Gulu district. He ordered all schools closed Tuesday
and a list of students from the three most infected areas was being
Ochola said funerals had been banned because the ritual
cleansing of the dead had contributed to the spread of the disease.
The outbreak has been traced to a funeral, where an entire family
had died, Ochola said. Those who took part later went back to their
neighborhoods, where the outbreak spread like wildfire. The first
case turned up at Locar Hospital on Oct. 8, he said.
What the district needs most is disinfectant, disposable gloves
and garments to help stem the spread of the disease, Ochola said.
He said they also needed body bags so that victims can be buried
Two experts from the World Health Organization were advising
local officials, while three more were expected to arrive in
Kampala from Geneva on Tuesday and fly to Gulu, 360 kilometers (225
miles) north of the capital. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control
also was sending experts.
"We need to train people to handle the patients before we send
them into these areas," said Dr. Nestor Ndayimirije, a WHO
Two international aid organizations, the International Committee
of the Red Cross and the U.S.-based Catholic Relief Services, have
withdrawn expatriate staff from the affected region, officials said
Other agencies, including the U.N.'s World Food Program, which
feeds some 200,000 people displaced by rebel attacks in northern
Uganda, were monitoring the situation.
There were reports that two people have died of the disease in
neighboring Kitgum district, but those cases have not been
While HIV kills all of its victims eventually, Ebola is feared
for its devastating speed and painful death. Four days after
exposure, flu-like symptoms set in, followed by bloody diarrhea and
vomiting. Between 10 and 15 days later, the victims ``bleed out''
through the nose, mouth and other bodily orifices. Blood and other
bodily fluids also begin seeping through the skin, producing
Gulu town is home to about 150,000 people, but is surrounded by
small villages with a largely illiterate population. There is a
large army base here to defend against attacks by the rebel Lord's
Resistance Army and there is a nighttime curfew. Ebola has never
been detected in Uganda before, so few people recognize the disease
or know how to treat it without getting infected.
Ochola rejected speculation that the disease was brought to
Uganda by soldiers who had served in neighboring Congo, where the
disease has been detected before. He said no soldiers had
contracted Ebola and denied earlier reports that a Congolese woman
married to a soldier had been diagnosed with the disease.
Ebola outbreaks occur every few years and the disease usually
kills its victims faster than they can spread the virus to others.
No one know where the virus resides between outbreaks or how the
first person in an outbreak contracts it.
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, Virginia. It was also the subject of
the 1995 fictional film "Outbreak."
Ebola was named after a river in Congo, where it was first
detected in 1976. 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.