- Published on Friday, 10 August 2012 02:25
- Written by AUGUSTINE SANGI
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WHEN news of the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus disease (EVD) in a district in neighbouring Uganda reached Tanzania recently, it sent many people in panic thinking that the disease will soon hit their country.
There is now considerable concern for the disease in Tanzania after people having learnt that it is highly infectious as well as contagious.
“Another AIDS like disease is likely to attack us,” yelled a Dar es Salaam resident John Masaka with fear after watching a footage of the outbreak of the disease in Uganda on television. The eruption of the disease in Uganda more than three weeks ago, has killed about 20 people and many others hospitalized in the country’s Kibaale District, according to the country’s Ministry of Health.
Kibaale is near the Democratic Republic of Congo where the virus first emerged in 1976, taking its name from the Ebola River. Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni has urged people to avoid physical contact such as shaking hands, kissing or having sex to prevent the disease from spreading.
Uganda has seen three major Ebola outbreaks over the past 12 years. The deadliest was in 2000 when 425 people were infected. More than half of them died. There is no cure for Ebola, which is transmitted by body fluids such as saliva, sweat and blood. Symptoms include sudden onset of fever, diarrhoea, vomiting weakness, headache and kidney problems.
But doctors can treat some of these symptoms including diarrhoea and vomiting. According to medical sources EVD or Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF), is the name for the human disease which may be caused by any of four of the five known ebola viruses - Bundibugyo virus (BDBV), Ebola virus (EBOV), Sudan virus (SUDV), and Taï Forest virus - formerly and more commonly Côte d'Ivoire Ebola virus.
EVD is clinically nearly indistinguishable from Marburg virus disease (MVD)and can also easily be confused with many other diseases prevalent in Equatorial Africa, such as other viral hemorrhagic fevers, falciparum malaria, typhoid fever, shigellosis, rickettsial diseases, cholera, gram-negative septicemia or EHEC enteritis.
When news of the outbreak of disease in Uganda reached Tanzania, the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare quickly alerted members of the public to take precautions against it. The ministry’s acting Permanent Secretary, Ms Regina Kikuli, particularly warned five regions in the country on the border with Uganda to be on high alert - Mara, Mwanza, Kagera, Kigoma and Rukwa.
“People are advised not to panic as so far we have not received any case within our borders. We advice them to report to a nearby health facility in case they come across anyone with Ebola symptoms,” she said in a statement.
The ministry has also taken crucial measures including issuing directives on how to diagnose the disease to all regional and district medical officers as well as distributing various leaflets to the public detailing the symptoms of the disease. The Ebola virus is one of the deadliest known to man, claiming the lives of two-thirds of the people it has infected so far, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The tropical virus can fell its victims within days, causing severe fever and muscle pain, weakness, vomiting and diarrhoea - in some cases shutting down organs and causing unstoppable bleeding. Of about 1,850 people diagnosed with Ebola haemorrhagic fever since the virus was first identified 36 years ago in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire), 1,200 have died, says WHO.
Despite being extremely virulent, experts say the virus is containable because it kills its victims faster than it can spread to new ones. The incubation period between exposure and the first symptoms varies from two to 21 days. Of the five species of the Ebola virus, three are particularly dangerous with fatality rates of between 25 and 90 per cent, according to the WHO.
The disease is transmitted through contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of an infected person. The virus has been known to spread at burials where mourners touch the body, but doctors and nurses have also fallen ill after failing to take adequate precautions. Even testing blood specimens for the disease presents an extreme biohazard risk, states the WHO, and is done only in the strictest containment conditions.
Ebola also infects wild animals. People have contracted the virus after handling infected chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines, dead or alive, in the Ivory Coast, Congo and Gabon. In another development, the Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Dr Hussein Mwinyi, told visibly panicked members of Parliament meeting in Dodoma for a marathon budget session that the government had already dispatched medical experts to the regions on the border with Uganda in an endeavour to keep the disease at bay.
Some legislators had expressed fear that travellers from Uganda could shunt the problem into Tanzania. Dr Mwinyi said the dispatched medical experts were fully equipped with protective gear, medical supplies and other necessities. The experts were also capable of identifying Ebola virus carriers.
The minister advised the public, especially those living in the regions which border Uganda, to take precautions against the disease. WHO also has already alerted Tanzania on the Ebola threat. In responding to the alert, the ministry responsible for health has issued a statement to the media elaborating that Ebola was a highly contagious disease brought on by a virus.
The symptoms of the pandemic include a sudden rise in body temperature, unexplained fatigue, muscle pain, bouts of headache and sore throat. The symptoms are followed almost immediately by incessant vomiting, loose bowels, skin rashes, kidney malfunction and liver failure.
Some victims also bleed profusely through external and internal orifices, a phenomenon that has baffled the medical world. Normally symptoms manifest in two to 21 days after a victim contracts the virus. Victims contract the disease after inadvertently touching the blood or other body discharges of an Ebola patient. Virus transmission is also possible when the body of a dead victim is touched.