By Elias Biryabarema
KAMPALA (Reuters) - The death toll from an Ebola outbreak in western Uganda has risen to 16 after two more people died of the disease, health officials said on Wednesday, but they are hopeful that the worst has passed.
Eighteen people are in an isolation ward at a hospital in Kibaale district, where the outbreak started, and teams of health workers are visiting villages to isolate people possibly infected and to advise others on preventive measures.
There is no specific treatment for Ebola, which is transmitted by close contact and body fluids such as saliva, vomit, faeces, sweat, semen and blood.
Health officials are hopeful there will be no repeat of the severity of the Ebola outbreak in Uganda in 2000, when 425 people were infected by the virus, more than half of whom died.
"It was sad we recorded two more deaths ... but we're also encouraged by the fact that we're not receiving many more new cases," Kibaale district health officer Dan Kyamanywa said. The latest deaths occurred late on Tuesday, he said.
Up to 176 people who are suspected to have had contact with Ebola victims are being monitored, but none have so far shown signs of the disease, Ministry of Health spokeswoman Rukia Nakamatte told Reuters.
Neighboring Kenya said it was monitoring a suspected case of Ebola after a man was placed in isolation in Siaya district hospital, near the Ugandan border.
The country's director of public health and sanitation said it was unlikely to be a case of Ebola. However, the Kenyan speaker of parliament has asked the public health minister to deliver a statement on the matter.
Ugandan authorities said last week they had confirmed an outbreak of Ebola in Kibaale, about 170 km (100 miles) west of the capital Kampala, and near the Democratic Republic of Congo where the virus first emerged in 1976, taking its name from the Ebola River.
Authorities in the east African country have not yet identified the source of the outbreak, although Kibaale Forest has a high concentration of monkeys and birds, which act as transmitters of the virus.
President Yoweri Museveni has advised people to avoid shaking hands, casual sex and do-it-yourself burials to reduce the chance of contracting the deadly hemorrhagic fever.
Kyamanywa said Ebola had been ruled out as the cause of death of two people, including a child, who officials said on Tuesday were suspected to have been infected with the virus.
Although there is no cure for the virus, doctors can treat opportunistic diseases and symptoms affecting patients including diarrhea, vomiting and malaria, and some patients can survive.
(Additional reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Pravin Char)