Health officials in Uganda say laboratory tests have shown that an outbreak of the deadly Ebola disease in the western part of the country has not spread to the east, as officials had feared. As VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi, health workers in Uganda have been besieged by rumors of Ebola cases, complicating the task of containing the outbreak.
The Director General of Medical Services in Uganda's ministry of health, Dr. Sam Okware, tells VOA that several people who had been under observation near Lake Victoria and a district of the country's eastern region near the Kenyan border have been cleared of the virus that causes the Ebola disease.
"Fortunately, we have found that they are all negative. The laboratory results have just come out and they are all negative. So, basically, the disease started in Bundibugyo and it is continuing in that area. We hope it will remain that way," he said.
Dr. Okware says since the outbreak began in August, nearly 110 people in the Bundibugyo district, 350 kilometers west of the Ugandan capital Kampala, have tested positive for the virus that causes Ebola, an extremely contagious blood-borne disease first discovered in Congo Kinshasa in 1976.
Scientists still have not been able to identify the source of the virus and there is no known cure for the disease.
In recent weeks, rumors of Ebola infections have also swept through the Ugandan capital, in western Kanungu and Kasese districts and northwestern Adjuman district.
Officials deployed health teams to investigate. But Dr. Okware says they have found nothing to suggest that the outbreak has spread beyond the outbreak's epicenter, where hundreds of people remain under intense observation.
Common symptoms of Ebola include high fever and headaches, followed by bleeding from openings in the body. Ebola is usually spread through contact with the body fluids of an infected person or someone who has died of the disease.
Twenty-eight people in Bundibugyo have died in the outbreak, including five health workers who had been treating Ebola-infected patients at the local hospital.
Health officials in the United States and the United Nations on high alert because the outbreak is caused by a strain of Ebola virus that scientists have never seen before. It is not known whether the new strain has the potential to spread more quickly or become more lethal than other sub-types of the hemorrhagic fever.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention has set up a laboratory in Uganda to help identify new cases and the World Health Organization says it is training local healthcare workers on measures to stem the deadly microbe.
Meanwhile, Dr. Okware says Ugandan officials are doing their best to keep the disease from spreading.
"First, we discourage any unnecessary movement; secondly, by making sure that those who are sick do not move from place to place and thirdly, by making sure we provide adequate information to everybody," he said.
Ugandan health officials also say they are investigating reports of outbreaks of meningitis, bubonic plague, cholera, and hepatitis in the north and northwestern part of the country.