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Posted at 08:08 AM ET, 08/01/2012

Ebola kills 14 in Uganda as health workers attempt to head off epidemic

The number of Ebola cases in Uganda has increased in the past week and now totals 36 suspected or confirmed cases, according to an NPR report citing the World Health Organization.
A police officer helps a worker put on gloves to protect him from virus infection Tuesday at the Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda, where one person who contracted the deadly Ebola virus died. (Michele Sibiloni - AFP/Getty Images)

So far 14 people have died of the disease, which has a fatality rate ranging from 25 to 90 percent.

This particular strain, called Sudan, has caused five outbreaks in Africa since 1976, NPR reports.

This latest outbreak has stoked fears that the disease may spread. It has already infected at least one person in Kampala, the capital.

“It’s no longer just one village. There are many villages affected,” Stephen Byaruhanga, health secretary of the affected Kibaale district, told the Associated Press.

Neighboring Kenya has also put its labs on high alert.

Kenya has dispatched protective medical gear to border areas and started screening individuals at airports and border crossings, Shikanga O-tipo, head of the integrated disease surveillance unit at the Public Health Ministry told Bloomberg News.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni urged his citizens Monday to avoid shaking hands and casual sex in order to prevent the spread of the disease.

"Do not take on burying somebody who has died from symptoms that look like  Ebola. Instead, call health workers because they know how to do it . . . avoid promiscuity because this sickness can also [be transmitted] through sex," Museveni said in a state broadcast.

Although Ugandan health officials have taken precautions, such as setting up isolation wards in hospitals where the original cases were treated, some victims were refusing to seek medical care because they believed the illness was caused by “evil spirits,” al-Jazeera reported.

Ebola causes flu-like symptoms that are frequently followed by vomiting, rash, impaired organ function and internal bleeding. There is no specific treatment or vaccine, and patients are given “intense supportive care,” the WHO says.

The disease is named for a river in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where it was first discovered. Humans contract the virus through infected animals; from there the disease can spread among humans through close contact and body fluids. About 1,850 cases with more than 1,200 deaths have been documented since the Ebola virus was discovered in 1976. The worst-ever outbreak was in 2000, when the Sudan strain infected 425 people and killed 224 of them in Uganda. Last year, one person died of Ebola in Uganda, but there were no other known cases.

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By  |  08:08 AM ET, 08/01/2012

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