Archive for Wednesday, October 18, 2000

Ebola outbreak spreading

October 18, 2000


— Dressed in surgical gowns, flimsy masks and knee-high rubber boots, the nurses at Locar Hospital know that with each day that passes they have a greater chance of becoming infected with the deadly Ebola virus.

One doctor and two nurses are among the 37 who have died so far from the terrifying hemorraghic fever that can be passed through a simple handshake including two more victims who died Tuesday. And with 10 more suspected cases identified each day, their work load will only increase.

"Most of us are so afraid," said nurse Peter Otim, peering anxiously from behind a thin mask that hid all but his eyes. "It is so challenging because we are so few and there is so much work to be done."

Reaching down, he took the pulse of a dying patient with the false bravado of a child touching a hot iron on a dare. His fingers touching her throat, he was all too aware that the incurable virus was now on his fingertips and could only hope the precautions he had taken would be enough.

Ebola has already infected more than 81 people.

"We are adding about 10 cases every 24 hours. It is still spreading until we can get people into the field and identify all of those infected," said Dr. Nestor Ndayimirije, a World Health Organization epidemiologist helping Ugandan authorities trace the source of the Ebola outbreak, the nation's first.

There is no blood test for Ebola and a case can only be confirmed through sophisticated blood analysis requiring special equipment not available in Uganda. Health workers have begun quarantining anyone complaining of flu-like symptoms, diarrhea or vomiting, the earliest signs of exposure.

Ebola is spread through contact with bodily fluids, including saliva, blood and mucus, though it is not spread through the air. It is feared for its devastating speed and painful death.

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