Ugandans are avoiding as much physical contact as possible including shaking of hands, kissing and having sex, to prevent the spread of the deadly and highly communicable Ebola virus that has killed 16 people in recent weeks.
Two people died on Wednesday to bring the figure to 16 in an outbreak that started in the Kibaale district in western Uganda, health officials said. The two died in a hospital in Kagadi, near the Congolese border.
One of the two latest deaths was of a 14-year-old boy whose nine relatives also have died in the outbreak in the district’s Nyanswiga village, where the first case is thought to have been, the Cable News Network (CNN) reports.
President Yoweri Museveni urged Ugandans in a nationally televised speech to minimize contact as much as possible amid a scare that has already prompted schools and markets to shut and public gatherings to be cancelled.
The deaths have heightened fear about the spread of the virus, a highly contagious and deadly vector spread through direct contact with bodily fluids.
Symptoms can include fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, headache, a measles-like rash, red eyes and, at times, bleeding from body openings.
The disease has no known cure or vaccine yet, and some strains can kill up to 90 per cent of victims within days.
The outbreak has triggered closures of public places while many Ugandans are reportedly avoiding public vehicles.
Health workers working aggressively to contain the spread include people from Uganda’s ministry of health, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Mr. Museveni said health officials are trying to trace everyone who had had contact with victims so that they can be quarantined.
He said people should avoid shaking hands, kissing or having sex to prevent the disease from spreading, he added.
Mr Museveni said relatives and friends should not bury anyone who is suspected to have died of Ebola.
“Instead call health workers because they know how to do it,” he said, as quoted by the BBC.
Ebola was named for the river near where it was first reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976. Scientists believe an Ebola outbreak usually begins when a human contracts the disease from an infected animal.
The CDC operates a laboratory in Uganda where a team of scientists is studying Ebola and other deadly viruses in Africa.
This is the third outbreak of Ebola in Uganda since 2000 when 224 people were killed. At least 42 people were killed in another outbreak in 2007, and there was a single confirmed case in 2011.