New Vision (Kampala)

29 July 2009

Uganda: UPDF in Somalia Hit By Strange Disease

Kampala — A strange disease has killed two Ugandan peace-keepers in Somalia and affected 17 others who were flown to a hospital in Nairobi yesterday, according to the UPDF.

"One died in Mogadishu on Tuesday evening while another one died on Wednesday morning in Nairobi," said spokesperson Col. Felix Kulayigye.

"Another 17 are admitted at the intensive care unit of Nairobi Hospital."

UPDF has dispatched a medical team to Mogadishu to establish the cause of the problem.

"The symptoms are chest pain, fever, headache, swelling of the lower limbs, rapid heart-beat and difficulties in breathing," said Kulayigye.

"We have no confirmation yet on what disease they are suffering from." By the end of last week, over 50 Burundians had been hit by the same mysterious disease, killing four.

Dr. Col. James Kiyengo, the force medical officer, on Friday said they suspected the disease to be leptospirosis.

"Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease caused by exposure to water contaminated with the urine of infected animals," Dr. Kiyengo explained.

"For example, a rat could have urinated in a water tanker and spread the disease."

Al Shabaab, the Islamist insurgents fighting the Somali government and the peace-keepers, claimed responsibility, saying they had poisoned them.

But the claim was dismissed by medical officers of the African Union peace-keeping force, who said it was a bacterial infection as a result of poor hygiene and living conditions associated with the job.

According to the US Center for Disease Control, leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects humans and animals.

In humans it causes a wide range of symptoms, such as high fever, severe headache, chills, muscle aches, and vomiting. It may include jaundice (yellow skin), red eyes, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, or a rash.

If not treated, the patient could develop kidney damage, meningitis (inflammation of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord), liver failure and respiratory distress.

In rare cases death occurs. Humans become infected through contact with water, food or soil containing urine from infected animals, such as dogs, or rats, according to the US Center for Disease Control.

This may happen by swallowing contaminated food or water, through skin contact, such as the eyes or nose, or contact with broken skin.

The disease is not known to be spread from person to person. The time between a person's exposure to a contaminated source and becoming sick is about four weeks.

The illness lasts from a few days to three weeks. Without treatment, recovery may take several months. Leptospirosis is an occupational hazard for many people who work outdoors or with animals, such as farmers, veterinarians, fishermen or the military.

Dr. Kiyonga said the disease can be treated with antibiotics and prevented by boiling water and keeping out rats.

There are 4,300 AU peace-keepers in Somalia, of whom 2,700 are Ugandan.

The current Ugandan contingent will be replaced next month. Col. Nathan Mugisha is taking over from Gen. Francis Okello as force commander.

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