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New case of Ebola strikes Uganda

One killed by deadly fever, population takes measures to prevent its spread.

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Uganda confirmed that the Ebola virus has killed a 12-year-old girl. Uganda has not had a confirmed case of Ebola since 2007. In this photo a team of doctors examines a man suspected to be infected with Ebola on December 20, 2007. (Claude Mahoudeau/AFP/Getty Images)

KAMPALA, Uganda — Uganda is coping with a fresh outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.

Ebola killed a 12-year girl in Uganda's Luwero district, about 45 miles north of Kampala, the Ugandan Ministry of Health and the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed this week. 

“Laboratory investigations confirmed Ebola to be the cause of illness and death”, said Dr. Anthony Mbonye, Uganda’s commissioner for community health about the re-emergence of the deadly virus that has not been seen in Uganda for years.

"Just one case is considered an epidemic because it can spread quickly and it is highly fatal," Mbonye said.

Ebola’s most recent outbreak in Uganda, in 2008, killed 37 people. Health officials are now monitoring more than 30 people who had been in contact with the infected girl. A nurse who treated the girl showed some signs of Ebola and is under surveillance, reported health officials.

“Just one case is considered an epidemic because it can spread quickly and it is highly fatal.”
~Dr. Anthony Mbonye, Uganda community health commissioner

The virus and the disease derive their names from the site of the first outbreak in 1976, the Ebola River Valley in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Ebola hemorrhagic fever is deadly but preventable. The disease occurs throughout central and west Africa.

According to the CDC a person suffering from Ebola has a sudden onset of high fever with any of the following: headache, vomiting blood, joint and muscle pains, bleeding through body openings (eyes, nose, gums, ears, anus) and reduced urine. Ebola can only be spread through direct contact with body fluids of an infected person or the body of someone who has died from the disease.

To minimize the risk of contracting Ebola, people must avoid direct contact with body fluids (blood, saliva, vomitus, urine, and stool) by wearing protective gloves, masks and gowns. People must also avoid communal washing of hands.

Ebola fever was first identified in 1976 near the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The disease occurs throughout central Africa and is suspected to be contracted through contact with monkeys. One outbreak in Congo, formerly Zaire, killed 250 people in 1995.

In Uganda in 2000 more than 400 people were infected with Ebola and 224 died from the virus.

Ugandan officials are working to make sure this remains an isolated case and does not spread. Uganda is the only country in Africa to set up a laboratory that can test for Ebola. Before that blood samples would have to be sent to Europe or the U.S. Ugandans are heeding the health warnings.

This outbreak comes at a time when tempers are high following the recent “walk-to-work” anti-government protests against rising food and fuel costs and the subsequent violent reaction by police. Some Ugandans see the new outbreak of Ebola as symptomatic of overall government failure with regards to healthcare.

“Ebola? The regime is to blame! The health sector is among the most underfunded sectors in Uganda with no money set aside for research and emergencies” said concerned Kampala resident, Derrick Opio.

Another example of the importance of the Ugandan government's health care system is the nation’s fight against HIV/AIDS.

In the 1990s Uganda was lauded as a global leader in the fight against HIV because it succeeded in dramatically lowering its HIV infection rate. However, recent studies indicate those gains have been reversed and the overall HIV infection rate is rising rapidly.

After the first case of HIV/AIDS was diagnosed near Lake Victoria in 1982, Uganda’s HIV infection prevalence rose to 29 percent of the adult population in Uganda’s urban areas in 1986.