KAMPALA The rare and deadly Ebola virus has killed a 12-year-old Ugandan girl and health officials said on Saturday they expected more cases.
The girl from Luwero district, 75 km (45 miles) north of the capital Kampala, died on May 6, said Anthony Mbonye, the government's commissioner for community health, in the first outbreak of the virus in Uganda in four years.
"Laboratory investigations have confirmed Ebola to be the primary cause of the illness and death. So there is one case reported but we expect other cases," he said.
There is no treatment and no vaccine against Ebola, which is transmitted by close personal contact and, depending on the strain, kills up to 90 percent of victims.
"Just one case is considered an epidemic because it can spread quickly and it is highly fatal."
The last time Uganda was hit by Ebola -- a disease in which those infected often bleed to death -- it killed 37 people.
Ugandan health officials are following up 33 people who were in contact with the girl, he said.
Mbonye asked Ugandans to avoid eating monkeys, and to not hold lengthy funerals, but bury bodies immediately. People have contracted Ebola after eating improperly cooked monkey meat.
Representatives from the World Health Organization attended the press briefing in the capital.
Uganda said it had notified its neighbors of the outbreak.
The 2007 outbreak sparked panic amongst officials, health workers and the public. At the time, President Yoweri Museveni urged Ugandans to stop shaking hands in an attempt to halt the spread of Ebola.
Its initial symptoms include sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, impaired kidney and liver function and both internal and external bleeding.
Mbonye said rapid response teams were on standby to treat those with symptoms, and urged people to remain calm. He said the strain in the outbreak was Sudanic ebola, which has a 50-60 percent fatality rate.
Ebola has caused dozens of deadly outbreaks across Africa and threatens endangered gorilla populations as well as people. It is considered a possible bioterrorism weapon.
The virus is named after the Ebola River Valley in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), which is near the site of the first recognized outbreak in 1976.
(Writing by James Macharia; editing by Matthew Jones)