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In four months, the deadly viral haemorrhagic fevers have hit Uganda three times, killing at least 29 people in Uganda.

An ongoing outbreak of a different strain of Ebola, following previous attacks of Ebola and Marburg, raises the question why we are becoming so vulnerable to these viral attacks. First to be hit, in July, was the western district of Kibaale, where Ebola claimed 17 lives including 12 from the same family.

Hardly a week after authorities declared the country Ebola-free, Marburg, described by scientists as a ‘cousin of Ebola’, struck Kabale district. It later spread to Rukungiri, Mbarara and Ibanda districts killing at least seven lives. As the country was struggling to contain Marburg, a fresh Ebola outbreak was confirmed in Luweero last week.

So far, the Luweero Ebola outbreak has claimed five lives, while another five have tested positive for the deadly haemorrhagic fever. Explaining these attacks, health experts believe human beings are largely to blame. Dr Mariam Nanyonjo, the disease prevention advisor, at the World Health Organisation (WHO) Kampala office, blames increasing contact with wild animals.

“Monkeys and bats are the reservoirs for Ebola, and not all bats but fruit-eating bats,” she says.

Nanyonjo says there are many people are exposing themselves by encroaching on wildlife habitats, which host these viruses. Ugandans are also known to love bush meat, further raising the risk. And once a person contracts the virus, he/she passes it on to other humans they come into contact with.

Deforestation

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Old World fruit bats of the family Pteropodidae, are considered to be natural hosts for the Ebola and Marburg viruses. Dr Denis Lwamafa, commissioner for National Disease Control in the ministry of Health, blames the depletion of wild animals’ habitats, such as forests, for the outbreaks.

“Where we have had Ebola, the monkeys were coming into people’s homes and sharing food, and the bats were even staying in some houses after their habitats were destroyed and bushes cleared for farming in the cases of Luweero, Kibaale, and Bundibugyo, among other areas.” Dr Lwamafa says.

Dr Joaquim Saweka, WHO Country Representative to Uganda, believes increased exposure of humans to secretions from virus hosts like bats and monkeys makes us more susceptible to Ebola.

“In some areas, people eat fruits and foods that have already been part-eaten by bats, which is very dangerous,” he said.

Indeed, ecological studies done in Maramagambo forest after the first Marburg outbreak in Kamwenge in 2007 revealed that some bats and wild animals harboured the Marburg virus.
“People living near forests should take precautionary measures and avoid eating wild animals,” cautions Health Minister Christine Ondoa.

Link to pigs

Canadian scientists have shown that the deadliest form of the Ebola virus could be transmitted by air. Their experiments show that the virus was transmitted from pigs to monkeys without any direct contact between them.

The fruit bat has long been considered the natural reservoir of the infection. But recent research suggests that pigs, both wild and domestic, could be a hidden source of Ebola Zaire - the most deadly form of the virus.

In their experiments, the pigs carrying the virus were housed in pens with the monkeys in close proximity but separated by a wire barrier. After eight days, some of the monkeys were showing clinical signs typical of Ebola and were killed after the experiment. However, researchers believe that the airborne attacks never break out over large parts of Africa.

No treatment

This is the fourth major Ebola outbreak reported in Uganda in 12 years, including in 2000 (224 deaths) and 2007 in Bundibugyo (38 deaths). Although there is no known cure for the fevers, Ondoa says, patients can be treated for their symptoms to strengthen their resistance. As with previous cases, the ministry of Health is tracing and listing people that may have been exposed to suspected and confirmed cases.

Although the WHO is yet to advise a travel ban to Uganda, Ugandans travelling abroad may face difficulties; in July Saudi Arabia rejected Ugandan Muslim pilgrims to Mecca because of Ebola.  

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Additional reporting from the BBC.

Comments

 
+1 #1 Jessy 2012-11-21 10:11
This is the best health report I have read coming out of a newspaper. Reporters usually distort health messages to get a selling title. Indeed, deforestration and encraoching on wild life reservoirs could be why we are getting a lot of these outbreaks. And sometimes the biggest encroachers are the so calle "bigwigs"

There is therefore need for interdiscplinar y effort to prevent further outbreaks to include folks from forestry authority, NEMA, police UPDF to shoot the big shpots, etc, name it!
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0 #2 Bonabana 2012-11-21 12:08
I agree with you Jessy in all points,thank you
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+2 #3 Lakwena 2012-11-21 12:23
The answer is: We live in a failed state, where public health policy and mechanism have collapsed, as our leaders are per-occupied with looting the treasury than serve the people who fill the very treasury they loot.

As a result Ugandans have lost their freedom to corruption first then the rest followed: lost freedom to Cholera to diarrhea to deadly Aids, Ebola and Marburg and also lost freedom of movement to jiggers.
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+2 #4 Ambrose Talisuna 2012-11-21 12:32
Does Uganda have adequate strategies for infection prevention and control at the community and health facility level? How come we frequently have this common interaction between animal reservoirs and humans? Is it cultural, is it hunting patterns, even then what has changed in recent years?

Are there specific populations that are frequenting the jungles in Uganda, Sudan and DRC either in line of duty, in search of a livelihood or food and hence come into close contacts with animal reservoirs? If yes, have they been sensitized about infection prevention?

Have they been equipped with infection control facilities for the community and facility level? Who are these populations groups that could be starting these outbreaks? We need to seriously start asking tough questions?Is Uganda compliant with the requirements of the revised international health regulations?
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+3 #5 amanda 2012-11-21 21:15
Indeed the contact is so close. I can imagine that water bottle is going to be thrown in that location.

Someone will pick that bottle and refill it with bushera (African porridge)or water and it will be consumed by some customer. Ugandans be mindful of those mineral water bottles!
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0 #6 The Ugandan... 2012-11-22 07:32
We need to stop looking at these problems with Western centric views. People have been eating bush meat for eternity. Were there Ebola outbreaks then? Maybe or may be not. Let's find out and if so how were they traditionally contained?

Basic information about these diseases should be inculcated into our syllabuses and public media. Maybe then a whole family wouldn't be wiped out or someone from Luwero who travels to a red zone would pick up on symptoms and seek help quickly.
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+1 #7 Arthur 2012-11-22 12:51
Well, with ebola, we might have to look at the Congo refugee crisis, but when it comes to thr old world fruit bats, i'm pretty scared. there needs to be sensitisation about these bats and marburg. people are encroaching on caves and their hideouts plus coming across their secretions on fruits like bananas especially for those living near forests.

with high poverty levels, homeless people and nomads plus ignorance, this could present us with huge problem. funny that fruit bats have more than 20 uses for the environment if you do not encroach on their habitats. as our populations increase, we are going to meet the real tropics and disease could be amidst us!
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