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Ugandan doctor who had been leading Ebola fight dies of the virus

KAMPALA, Uganda (Reuters) -- The Ugandan doctor who had been leading the battle against the deadly Ebola hemorrhagic fever died of the virus on Tuesday morning as the death toll rose to 156, health ministry officials said.

"Last night, at 1:20 a.m. we lost one of our gallant sons of the country, who has been spearheading the fight against Ebola in Gulu -- the late Dr. Matthew Lukwiya," Alex Opio, assistant commissioner for disease control, told reporters.

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Lukwiya, the medical superintendent at St Mary's Hospital in Lacor, close to where the outbreak began in September, was the first to realize that a viral hemorrhagic fever might be to blame for a string of strange deaths in the area.

"He was the individual who brought it to the world's attention," said Ray Arthur, the World Health Organization's Ebola coordinator in Gulu.

"Possibly he got infected while caring for one of the staff members at the hospital," Arthur said.

The well-equipped Lacor hospital, six kilometers west of Gulu town, has dealt with most of the 370 suspected Ebola cases in the district, but in the past few weeks several nursing staff there have died from the virus.

"I guess you have to assume that there may have been a break in (the barrier nursing) technique," Arthur said.

"Ebola virus is not very forgiving. One little mistake is enough to infect an individual."

Opio said tiredness from long work hours in stressful conditions may have been partly responsible for the deaths of Lukwiya and the 12 nurses who have died in the Lacor and Gulu hospitals since the outbreak began.

"We are appealing for medical workers who can volunteer to come forward to be trained to be taken north to Gulu and Masindi," Opio said.

In Masindi district, adjacent to Gulu, there have been five Ebola deaths and nine more confirmed cases since last Friday, bringing the total number of cases there to 24.

All but two -- an ambulance driver and a hospital cleaner -- belong to the same family, Opio said.

A member of the family unknowingly carried the virus from Gulu in early November.

Despite the steadily rising death toll, Opio said the epidemic was still under control. There have been 14 new confirmed cases and four deaths in Gulu since last Friday, including that of Lukwiya.

"If things were out of control, you would have seen a big explosion in the number of new cases," Opio said.

There is no cure yet for Ebola, although researchers in Paris last week reported successful vaccine tests on monkeys.

Most victims die from shock after days of high fever, chest pains, vomiting and extensive internal bleeding. Doctors can do little except provide supportive rehydration therapy.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



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