KAMPALA, Uganda — At the Ebola task force meeting at the Ministry of Health this morning, no one was shaking hands.
Everyone greeted each other by bumping elbows out of fear of the Ebola outbreak that so far has claimed 16 lives. And while the disease is most likely spread by contact with blood, the country’s president has called for a ban on handshakes and kissing.
Ebola is a viral infection that can present with fever, body aches, rash and can sometimes progress to bleeding. In previous outbreaks death rates have ranged from around 50-90 percent. There is no treatment except supportive care.
Patients with Ebola are isolated to prevent spread, and health care workers must wear extensive protective equipment just to provide basic care. The outbreak is occurring in the western part of the country, though one case has been diagnosed more than 200 miles away in the capital city, Kampala, in someone who traveled from the affected area. Currently 30 patients are in isolation being tested for Ebola.
The race is on to find all people who had contact with these Ebola patients. According the Ministry of Health, health workers are currently tracking more than 232 contacts. Each contact is visited daily to look for any signs of disease. Those with symptoms have blood samples collected and raced to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention team and Ugandan government lab near the capital, Kampala for testing. It is the only lab in the region capable of doing this testing.
I’m embedded with the CDC team that is helping the ministry take on this outbreak. They are on the ground going village to village searching for contacts, analyzing data looking for connections between patients and working in the lab testing samples. At this point, its too soon to say whether the outbreak is rising, falling, or leveling off. Until they figure that out, there is little time to rest.
While visitors to Uganda are not at risk, there are many reports of tourism falling off as a result of fears of contracting Ebola — more proof that when it comes to Ebola, it is all about fear.