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(18 Oct 2000) English/Nat
Wearing double layers of latex gloves and homemade surgical masks, health inspectors fanned out around villages near Gulu on Wednesday, searching hut to hut among frightened residents for victims of the deadly Ebola virus.
Shaking hands is forbidden in the Gulu district, where 39 people have already died from an outbreak of Ebola – transmittable through almost any kind of bodily contact – and another 57 are suspected of being infected in Uganda’s first outbreak.
Health workers on Wednesday hit the ground looking for new cases and educating residents about the disease, which kills up to 90 percent of those infected.
Tony Owot is the leader of a six-person team that went to Kabede Opong, the village where a family of eight were the first victims of the outbreak.
It is now his team’s mission to sensitise people about the dangerous and rapidly spreading Ebola virus.
In Kabede Opong, around 219 miles (352 kilometers) north of the capital Kampala, the health workers went to each family compound – a circle of seven or eight thatched-rood huts, surrounded by fields of corn and cassava – asking if anyone was sick.
At each compound’s perimeter lie the graves of family members.
The teams checked on recent deaths and documented those who may have died from Ebola.
Many villagers say they’re scared after participating in funerals of people who had died of the disease.
Police officer Justin Okot’s wife was admitted yesterday to the hospital with symptoms of Ebola.
The 35-year-old officer has also taken part in many burials and is concerned for his health.
Health workers wore latex gloves provided by the military, but disposable surgical masks had run out.
Some wore cloth ones put together by local seamstresses.
Supplies of even those were not enough, and some workers went without any mask at all.
There is no blood test for Ebola and the only laboratory on the continent that has the equipment to confirm a case of infection is in South Africa.
Health workers have begun quarantining anyone complaining of flu-like symptoms, diarrhea or vomiting.
Those who are in the advanced stages of the disease begin to “bleed out” through the nose, mouth and other orifices.
Blood and other bodily fluids also begin seeping through the skin, producing painful blisters.
The virus can take its course in as little as two weeks.
Between 80 percent and 90 percent of confirmed Ebola victims die.
While cases have been reported in Congo, Sudan, Ivory Coast and Gabon, there has never been a reported case in Uganda before now.
But doctors are alarmed the virus is spreading so rapidly.
Dr. Nestor Ndayimirije, a World Health Organization epidemiologist who is helping Ugandan authorities trace the source of the nation’s first Ebola outbreak, claims there’s around ten reported cases every 24 hours.
Gulu district health officer Okat Lokach said they have so far traced the disease to a housewife who died around September 7.
She was buried according to local tradition, which involves the ritual cleansing of the dead by family and friends.
The next two victims were her daughter and mother.
Other mourners returned to their villages, fell ill and infected their friends and family.
The first victim finally reached a hospital on October 7.
But Lokach said the search for who infected the housewife was still on and the disease may have surfaced even
before then.
Funerals have since been banned and the practice of washing the dead is now prohibited.
Ebola outbreaks only occur every few years and the disease usually kills its victims faster than they can spread the virus to others.
No one knows where the virus resides between outbreaks or how the first person in an outbreak contracts it.
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