A World Health Organization official has stated that the Ebola outbreak in Uganda is now “under control.” However, a prisoner suspected of being infected with the deadly virus managed to escape from a hospital, spurring fears of further contagion.
The inmate’s test results are yet to be determined.
“Should his results come back and he is positive, that causes us a lot of worry,” Dr. Jackson Amune, a commissioner at the Ugandan Ministry of Health, was quoted by CNN as saying.
The prisoner broke out on Friday night, prompting hospital officials to handcuff the four remaining prisoners to their beds. The prisoners are among the 30 people suspected of carrying Ebola at a hospital in the western town of Kagadi, the center of the outbreak.
“We do expect the number of suspected cases to increase,” Dr. Dan Kyamanywa, a local health officer, noted. “It's important to break transmission and reduce the number of contacts that suspected cases have.”
In the meantime, Joaquim Saweka, the WHO representative in Uganda, said the disease was “under control.”
“The structure put in place is more than adequate,” he told reporters in the capital Kampala. “We are isolating the suspected or confirmed cases.”
He went on say that everyone known to have had contact with Ebola victims has been isolated. He also said that Ugandan health officials have written up a so-called “Ebola contact list,” containing the names of 176 people who had even the slightest contact with those infected with Ebola.
Saweka noted the fact that local officials trying to contain the virus were being assisted organizations such as Doctors Without Borders and the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Ebola outbreak was confirmed on July 28, several days after villagers in the western district of Kibaale died from it.
The first victim of the virus was a three-month old girl, Doctors Without Borders said in a statement on Wednesday. Fifteen of the 65 people that attended her funeral ended up contracting the disease.
Officials did not respond immediately, as the victims' symptoms were not the usual ones, such as regurgitating blood. The slow response allowed the disease to spread to other villages, as well as the towns of Kagadi and Mulago.
“The doctors in Kibaale say the symptoms were a bit atypical of Ebola,” Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni stated in a national address on Monday. “They were not clearly like Ebola symptoms. Because of that delay, the sickness spread to another village.”
Another problem doctors encountered was that many suspected cases refused to go to hospital as they feared they would get infected there. Other suspected Ebola patients, dissatisfied with poor hospital conditions, broke out of their wards to protest the way they were being treated. The Ugandan Ministry of Health also stated that a number of people were refusing treatment “because they believed that the cause of the illness was due to ‘evil spirits.’”
So far, the disease has claimed the lives of at least 16 people.
The Ebola virus was first detected in Zaire (today called the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in 1976, and was named after a river in the country. The disease spreads through bodily fluids, and the incubation period can last from two days to two weeks.
The latest outbreak is the fourth in Uganda since 2000, when over 220 people died from the virus in the north of the country.