Kenya placed its laboratories on high alert and dispatched protective medical gear to its border provinces amid an outbreak of Ebola in neighboring Uganda that has killed at least 14 people.
Measures to detect people who may be carrying the virus, including raising awareness and screenings at airports and border crossings, have been “invigorated” since the disease was detected in western Uganda on July 6, said Shikanga O-tipo, head of the integrated disease surveillance unit at Kenya’s Public Health Ministry.
“The ministry has put in place measures to ensure that the outbreak does not find its way into the country so that if by any chance any case finds its way in, it is detected on time, and response mounted to stop local transmission,” O-tipo said in a phone interview today from Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.
The current outbreak of Ebola, for which there is no specific treatment or vaccine, is the worst in Uganda since 2007, when 42 people died from the disease, according to data on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s website. The virus is transmitted by direct contact with blood, secretions or other bodily fluids of infected persons. Symptoms include fevers, muscle pain, diarrhea and internal and external bleeding.
“We have confidence in the system,” O-tipo said. “We have no doubt if there was to be an event in the country, that we would pick it up in time and mount an appropriate response. The country has no reason to worry.”
Rwanda, Uganda’s southern neighbor, also took steps to detect the disease, the Health Ministry said in a statement today in Kigali, the capital.
“Though no case has been reported in Rwanda for the last 15 years, government has put in place measures aimed at protecting the public from this deadly disease but is also cautioning Rwandans to remain vigilant and report any suspected cases immediately,” it said.
The outbreak began in Kibaale, 109 miles (175 kilometers) west of Kampala, Uganda’s capital, according to the Health Ministry, which is monitoring 34 health workers who came in contact with people suspected to have the virus. A total of 25 people have been infected with the disease, according to the Daily Monitor, a Kampala-based newspaper.
Anthony Mbonye, chairman of Uganda’s Ebola task force, was unable to comment when contacted because he was in a meeting. The Health Ministry will issue a statement later today, spokeswoman Rukia Nakamate said in a phone interview.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on July 29 issued an appeal for citizens of the country to report all suspected cases of the illness and to avoid contact with those who may have the disease.
“We discourage the shaking of hands because that can cause contact through sweat which can cause problems,” he said. “And when people are sick in hospitals with symptoms which look like Ebola, they should be handled by medical workers wearing protective gear.”
About 1,850 cases with more than 1,200 deaths have been documented since Ebola was discovered in 1976, the World Health Organization says. While the illness can be transmitted by animals including chimpanzees and primates, the natural reservoir of the virus is unknown, according to the Geneva-based agency’s website.