Death toll in Uganda Ebola outbreak rises to 96

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) - The number of new Ebola cases in Uganda is declining but four more people died in the past 24 hours, bring the death toll from an outbreak of the deadly virus in the East African nation to 96, a health official said Wednesday.

"We are almost past the peak of the epidemic," said Sam Okware, head of a national task force set up to deal with the outbreak. "It used to be 10 cases per day but it is down to less that five.despite the active case search (by health authorities)."

Okware said during the last 24 hours, three people had died of the virus and two new cases were admitted to the hospital in Gulu, 360 kilometers (225 miles) north of the capital of Kampala, where the outbreak was first confirmed on Oct. 14.

One person had also died of the disease in Mbarara, 175 miles southwest of Kampala, during the last 24 hours, but there were no new cases reported in the town, Okware said.

Authorities had hoped to contain the disease in Gulu, but on Thursday experts confirmed that a Ugandan soldier, who had visited the northern town, had died of the disease in Mbarara.

Since 20-year-old Samuel Bandese's death, there have been two other confirmed Ebola cases in Mbarara, which like Gulu is a military town.

The latest victim was also a soldier who became infected after visiting Bandese in the hospital. The third infected person in Mbarara is still receiving treatment.

The total number of people infected with Ebola is 288, Okware said.

Ebola, which is spread by bodily contact, can cause severe hemorrhagic fever and is often fatal. The virus' early symptoms are similar to those of flu and upset stomach - a parallel that has led to many false reports. No one knows where the virus lives between outbreaks or how the first person in an outbreak contracts it.

There is no medical cure for the Ebola virus, but patients treated with aggressive rehydration therapy have a good chance of survival.

On Monday, Mike Ryan, an expert with the Geneva-based World Health Organization, said it would probably be December before the outbreak could be declared over. Ryan spent three weeks working in Gulu.

Experts from WHO, the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Doctors Without Borders are in Uganda helping authorities contain the disease.