U.S. Experts Help Uganda on Ebola

Friday, October 20th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

GULU, Uganda (AP) — Ugandan and international health workers broke up into teams Friday to tackle an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, and officials reported a slowing in the spread of the epidemic that has killed 47 people and possibly infected 75 more.

Local health officials and experts from the World Health Organization briefed workers from Uganda and around the world on the spread of the disease at a headquarters in Gulu, the town at the center of the outbreak.

Dr. Guenael Rodier, the head of the WHO team and a veteran of a half dozen past Ebola outbreaks, said teams were established to treat patients, trace the outbreak, operate an advanced laboratory and provide health education. Each team combined international, national and local expertise.

``It's getting better organized,'' Rodier said. ``Now we have much less transmission than we did two weeks ago, but we have many cases coming in from previous exposure.''

Ebola can take up to two weeks to incubate in a new victim and during this period, the patient is not contagious. But once the first flu-like symptoms develop, the patient can transmit the virus through bodily contact. In the later stages, the victim begins bleeding internally, producing vomit and diarrhea mixed with blood. At this point, and for a time after death, the patient is extremely contagious.

When the outbreak's very first victims died in Gulu, 225 miles north of Kampala, they were given traditional burial rites, including the washing the body of the deceased and then washing hands in a communal basin as a sign of unity. That turned many of the mourners into new victims.

Once the virus was first identified on Oct. 14, funerals were banned and now dead bodies are reported to authorities and carefully buried to avoid any chance of transmitting the disease.

Rodier said he was confident that area hospitals are now safe and that most people in the community had been reached by health workers going hut to hut looking for more cases.

``The vast majority of the cases are in the hospital today,'' Rodier said. But he added that it will take the length of an incubation period, about 10 days, before the number of new cases begins to shrink as a result of the measures taken this week.

Rodier was optimistic though that there would only be two more cycles of outbreaks and that the last case should be isolated within a month, after which there will be a six-week surveillance period to make sure the outbreak is over.

``To declare the epidemic over takes about three months,'' he said.

On Thursday, experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control arrived in Gulu with a mobile laboratory to help separate actual Ebola cases from those who have other diseases with similar symptoms.

Pierre Rollin, the head of the CDC team, said the virus had been identified as the Sudan strain of Ebola, one of three strains of the virus, that was last detected near the Ebola river in Sudan in 1979. The identification, which was confirmed by WHO on Friday, reinforced suspicions that the virus may have been inadvertently introduced to Uganda by rebels based in southern Sudan.

The Lord's Resistance Army has been fighting a 13-year war against President Yoweri Museveni's government and has kidnapped thousands of children, according to the United Nations and human rights organizations. Some have been turned into child soldiers or porters and others into sex slaves.