An Ebola patient died in western Uganda on Friday, bringing the toll to 23, an official said, amid fears that the virulent strain had spread to the eastern part of the country.
The patient died in Bundibugyo district, home to 250,000 people and the outbreak's epicentre where hundreds are under observation for possible infection, said Sam Okware, a health ministry official heading the battle against the disease.
Advertisement"So far the strain has infected 104, of which 23 have died," Okware said, adding that signs of the deadly microbe, which first surfaced in Bundibugyo in September, had appeared near Lake Victoria and a district of the country's eastern region near the Kenyan border.
"We are investigating cases in Mbale (near the Kenyan border), where one man has died and in Masaka (near Lake Victoria), where two fishermen have symptoms similar to those of Ebola," he added.
The health ministry said teams were also probing cases in western Kanungu and Kasese districts and northwestern Adjuman district for possible Ebola infections.
The Atlanta-based US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has set up a laboratory to bolster the Uganda Virus Research Institute "in diagnosis and analysis of samples," the World Health Organisation (WHO) said in a statement.
"Specimens from suspected cases are being collected and referred for confirmation as part of intensive surveillance activities," the statement explained.
Isolation wards have been established in Bundibugyo and Kikyo hospitals in the region while healthcare and auxiliary staff are being trained on effective measures to help stem the nightmarish microbe, the WHO said.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has also weighed in, advising people to refrain from shaking hands, state media reported. Some affected districts have also banned discotheques and public video halls to reduce human contact.
Meanwhile authorities have mobilised radio stations and mobile films to reach out to risky communities while posters, brochures and factsheets are being distributed in the Ebola zone.
The public is being educated on burial practices to avoid infections, as in Sudan's 1976 and 1979 outbreaks when several villagers contracted the strain during ceremonies that involved body contact.
Similar deaths were recorded in the 1996 outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) among volunteers who offered to bury the dead.
Although containing the strain is the chief priority, epidemiologists are also scouring the area to search for the virus source, seven years after it killed at least 170 people in northern Uganda.
With outbreaks of extremely contagious cholera, plague, meningitis and hepatitis -- all Ebola companion ailments -- reported in northern and northwestern Uganda, the situation looks grim, health chiefs confessed.
Alarmed, Kenya has issued an alert and boosted surveillance in the border region.
"At this stage, I would like to request any person suffering from sudden vomiting, diarrhoea, headache and nausea to seek immediate treatment in hospital," Kenyan Health Minister Paul Sang told local media.
Unlike Uganda, Kenya has never had a brush with the disease, whose recent mutation has stunned scientists. Rwanda and DRC have also taken some alert measures.
Spread by body fluids, the blood-borne disease, Ebola was named after a small DRC river where it was discovered in 1976. It re-emerged in Sudan later the same year. Other outbreaks have been recorded in Ivory Coast, Gabon and Uganda.
In the previous outbreaks, the disease struck with initial ferocity causing massive fatalities then faded away months later without leaving a hint where it came from.
Because of its scanty history, scientists have concluded that the strain is somewhat containable because it kills its victims faster than it can spread to new hosts.
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