Shots - Health Blog
2:03 pm
Fri October 5, 2012

After Ebola Fades, What Happens To The Quarantined?

Originally published on Fri October 5, 2012 2:25 pm

The Ebola outbreak in Uganda, which started two months ago, has come to a close.

"The Ministry of Health [of Uganda] has been very prudent of declaring the outbreak over," Gregory Hartl, a World Health Organization spokesman, tells Shots. The last case was detected over 42 days ago — or twice the incubation period for the hemorrhagic fever — so new infections are highly unlikely.

In case you missed it, the outbreak began July 28, when a health worker came down with the typical symptoms of the Ebola hemorrhagic fever. Those include sudden fever, vomiting, impaired kidney and liver function and, in some cases, profuse bleeding.

Epidemiologists and doctors from around the world quickly came to the scene. They isolated infected people and tracked down others they'd been in contact with.

The outbreak was relatively small in the end. Twenty-four got sick. But 17 of them died. The disease stayed isolated to a small region of western Uganda. By comparison, back in 2000 Uganda suffered an outbreak that sickened more than 400 people and claimed 224 lives.

To curb the recent outbreak, health workers quarantined over 40 people suspected of infection with the virus. For these people, Hartl says, getting back to a normal time will take some time.

For starters, health officials burned and buried the quarantined people's possessions. And, in many cases, they had to spend a month living in an isolation ward away from their families.

So what happens when these people are declared virus-free? The WHO posted a photo gallery illustrating the process for one woman, Magdalena Nyamurungi.

The WHO replaced some of Nyamurungi's belongings — a mattress, clothes, pots and pans. She also got a small amount money to pay for other items. Psychologists at the hospital counseled Nyamurungi and explained what to expect when she returns home.

"Being suspected of Ebola puts a kind of shadow around a person because there's so much fear around the disease," Hartl says. A community is often suspicious that people are contagious, even if they were never infected.

Thus, health workers traveled back home with Nyamurungi to allay her neighbors' fears and explain how she is completely healthy.

"It's labor intensive," Hartl tells Shots, "because you need people with knowledge of the local community to go door to door and explain how the virus works."

But this process is important in controlling Ebola, he says. It gives health workers a chance to educate communities about the virus, and it helps suspected patients return to normal life.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.