Although our trip is still 16 days away, it is unlikely that the recent Ebola Outbreak near Kibaale, Uganda will prevent us from going. My students and I have been closely following this since the end of July when the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed the first case of Ebola. The first thing I did was figure out exactly where Kibaale was in relation to where we would be traveling. I was immediately relieved to see that this area is about 100 miles south of Masindi, the rural district where we will spend the second half of our trip so unless it spread widely, it would not likely be a problem. But then I read that one of the early patients was transported to Kampala for treatment at Mulago Hospital, where we will begin our trip. So, it was imperative that we all learn more about this outbreak and watch its progress.
By the way, a faculty colleague from Wilkes was in Masindi at the time of this outbreak so I was able to follow this from the inside, as well as from international news. I was really pleased to hear from him that the Uganda press was very open about the whole situation and he felt the country was well-informed.
Ebola is a virus that can cause a deadly hemorrhagic fever. The initial infection is contracted through contact with the blood or body fluids of an infected animal (bat, monkey, gorilla…). Once a human gets the illness, the virus can be spread easily through human-to-human contact with infected blood and body fluids. The disease starts out with flu-like symptoms, fever, muscle pain and weakness, but then can progress to liver and kidney failure and bleeding due to its effect on the blood clotting system. Although the death rate is high and there are no effective antiviral medications to treat it, once the disease is recognized, basic infection control procedures and isolation of the infected individuals and/or communities can effectively halt the progression of the outbreak.
Thankfully, once the World Health Organization (WHO) first confirmed the diagnosis of Ebola, public healthcare agencies mobilized to contain the spread and treat the patients. There haven’t been any more new cases in Uganda since August 4 so the outbreak seems to be under control, but unfortunately there were 16 deaths.