Health experts in Uganda have linked the outbreak of the deadly Marburg Hemorrhagic Fever (MHF) in the western part of the country to a monkey similar to those that were responsible for the first outbreak in 1967.
Sam Okware, the head of the national task force to fight the spread of the epidemic told, a news conference here on Friday that preliminary investigations showed that the virus may be passed to one of the two victims by a Colobus monkey which was slaughtered.
"The probable case who is alive has been identified to have skinned a Colobus monkey a week prior to falling ill," Okware said flanked by the World Health Organization representative in Uganda, George Melville.
"The skin of the monkey has been recovered and is in safe custody at the Uganda Virus Institute. Samples of the skin have been sent for further analysis," he added.
The Ugandan government on Wednesday announced that two cases of MHF were identified at a gold mine located in Kakasi Forest Reserve, Kamwenge district, 250km west of Kampala.
One of the two miners confirmed to have contracted the virus died on July 14 and another miner was recovering after being treated.
"The number of cases still remain two - one confirmed who died and one probable who is still alive. Please note that the situation has not changed since notification of the outbreak," Okware noted.
He also revealed that the task force is monitoring over 140 people who are believed to have come into contact with the two miners both in the capital city Kampala and Kamwege district.
"In Kampala, 46 contacts have been identified. Among these eight are close contacts being relatives of the probable case and the deceased. In Kamwenge, 100 contacts who are all miners have been identified.
Of the 100, 50 are local miners living in the village, while another 50 are in a camp 200 meters from the mine. Of these six are very close contact to the probable case, as they participated in skinning the monkey," Okware said.
The government has set up isolation units at Mulago hospital in Kampala and Kicheche health center III in Kamwenge.
The health official again urged the public to remain calm and report any suspected cases to the nearest health unit.
MHF, like Ebola, is a highly deadly and contagious disease characterized by sudden onset of high fever and bleeding, resulting into death within a week if untreated.
The virus can be transmitted through close contact with blood and other body fluids from carriers who have developed clinical symptoms. It can also be transmitted following exposure to contaminated items, such as bedding and clothing of the patients.
The virus is named after Marburg, a city in Germany, where the first outbreak occurred in 1967 among laboratory workers doing research on monkeys imported from Uganda in order to prepare a polio vaccine.
According to the WHO, the last two recent outbreaks of MHF in the Democratic Republic of Congo during 1998-2000 and in Angola during 2004-2005 have claimed 128 and 323 lives respectively.