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Volume 1 Published - 14:00 UTC    08:00 EST    06-November-2000      
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Back To Vidyya Ebola Update:

First Ebola Case Outside Northern Uganda Confirmed

Ugandan Health officials on Thursday confirmed that the deadly Ebola virus has been identified outside northern Uganda's Gulu district. Despite the new case, World Health officials have not restricted travel to the area.

Experts confirmed the Ebola outbreak on Oct. 14 in the region around Gulu, 360 kilometers (225 miles) north of Kampala. So far it has claimed 89 lives, including the soldier who died Oct. 26 in southern Uganda, and 263 have been infected by the virus.

But following death of an unidentified 20-year-old soldier in Mbarara, experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Doctors Without Borders and the World Health Organization were sent to investigate in the town 282 kilometers (175 miles) southwest of Kampala.

Late Thursday, Sam Okware, chairman of a national task force set up to deal with the Ebola outbreak, said doctors had confirmed that the soldier was the latest victim of the highly contagious disease.

"This soldier is suspected to have had some contact (with the virus) in Gulu during the burial of an Ebola victim, and we suspect he may have touched the body," Okware said in a statement.

Before the outbreak was confirmed in Gulu, friends and family of people who had died in the area ritually bathed the deceased's body, buried it close to their homes and then washed their hands in a communal basin as a sign of unity.

Experts immediately put a halt to the traditional practice because of the high chance of infection for mourners.

The disease can cause severe hemorrhagic fever and can be spread by bodily contact just like the common cold.

Its early symptoms are similar to those of flu and stomach upsets, which has led to many false reports.

No one knows where the virus resides between outbreaks or how the first person in an outbreak contracts it.

Okware said Mbarara hospital and the district were well equipped to handle cases of the virus.

A person who traveled from Gulu with the soldier was being kept in isolation at the hospital, Okware said. The person, who has not been named, went to the hospital complaining of stomach cramps.

"The suspected case in Mbarara took us by surprise," said Ugandan health official Jimmy Kamugisha earlier Thursday. "We have sent the medical supplies because there are people who handled him (the soldier).

Both Gulu and Mbarara have military bases, but no other soldiers have died of the disease, according to officials.

When the outbreak was first identified, there were unconfirmed reports that it had been brought in by soldiers returning from neighboring Congo where Ugandan forces are deployed.

But these reports have been rejected by officials. The strain of the virus involved in the current outbreak has been identified as Ebola Sudan, one of three strains that can infect humans. It was last detected in Sudan in 1979.

One of the biggest problems faced by health officials in Gulu has been dealing with a largely rural, illiterate population surrounding the district's main town.

But in Mbarara district, a lush, prosperous farming area, the population is relatively well-educated.

It could take days until it is known whether more cases of Ebola are identified in Mbarara because the virus can take up to two weeks to incubate.

Kamugisha said there were no plans to restrict the movements of the 900 soldiers at Mbarara barracks because, "they are also part of the population, and it would mean restricting the movements of everybody."

There is no known medical cure for Ebola, but patients treated with aggressive rehydration therapy have a chance of survival.

Francis Omaswa, director of Uganda's health services, said in a statement Thursday that 134 patients in Gulu had recovered from the illness.

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Editor: Susan K. Boyer, RN
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