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Ebola Epidemic Hits Western Uganda
December 4, 2007
What is Ebola?
Dr. Armand Sprecher is an MSF physician specialized in hemorrhagic fevers like Ebola and Marburg. He recently advised MSF teams on how to respond to an outbreak of the disease that struck the province of West Kasai, Democratic Republic of Congo, in September 2007. In this interview, he describes Ebola hemorrhagic fever and the measures that are taken to control the outbreak.
Laboratory tests have confirmed the presence of the Ebola virus in samples collected in western Uganda, on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the Ugandan Ministry of Health, a total of 64 suspected cases and 21 deaths have been reported in the villages of Kykyo and Bundibugyo. The first Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams arrived in Bundibugyo, the epicenter, on December 1.
Ebola hemorrhagic fever is a highly contagious disease. Patients present with high fever, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, and, in some cases, external or internal bleeding. Case fatality rates have ranged from 50 to 90 percent. Typically by the end of the second week of illness, patients succumb to multiple organ failure. No vaccine or treatment exists for this type of infection.
MSF focuses on isolating suspected cases to prevent the spread of the disease to other patients, health-care workers, and family members, treating the symptoms, and reducing the suffering of patients. While waiting for the results of specialized testing for the organism, patients have to be isolated, treated with antibiotics and given supportive therapy for low blood pressure and breathing difficulties. To date, patients with similar symptoms have been identified in two other locations. These cases still require laboratory confirmation.
A first MSF team arrived on December 1 in the town of Bundibugyo. In the coming days, the team will grow to 20 staff members. They have set up a functioning isolation unit in Bundibugyo, where 23 patients are now hospitalized, and will set one up in Kikyo in the coming days. MSF is working with the Ugandan authorities, WHO, and other organizations.
Teams are now training national medical staff and caretakers to reduce contamination risks. They are also distributing medicines and protective equipment. Medical staff are at high risk of infection when caring for Ebola patients. The virus is transmitted through body fluids. In Bundibugyo, five nurses in the health center have already been contaminated.