( AFP ) - A lethal Ebola virus that has killed at least 16 people and infected 51 others in western Uganda is a previously unknown strain, health authorities said Friday.
Analysis on victims' blood and tissue samples sent to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control's pathogens laboratory behaved differently from previous known strains of Ebola, they said.
"It is a new type of strain. It is different from the one we suffered in Gulu and also different from the one that reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo," said Sam Okware, who chairs Uganda's national hemorrhagic fever task force.
The first Ebola case was reported on November 10 in Bundibugyo district on the border with DR Congo, where three patients are currently in an isolation ward.
Virologists say previous strains destroyed the linings of blood capillaries and vessels, prompting fluids to drain out of the circulatory system through the body's orifices and pores, killing the victim through shock.
But there is not much bleeding in the new strain that appears to kill its victims after provoking a high fever, they say.
Authorities have assembled epidemiologists and virologists in the affected district to monitor the disease.
"We have put our people on alert for anyone who is complaining of fever, abdominal pain, vomiting and has developed rashes," Okware said, referring to the early symptoms of the new strain.
An outbreak of Ebola, a highly contagious disease that can have fatality rates as high as 90 percent, killed at least 170 people in northern Uganda's Gulu district in 2000.
A similar outbreak has killed at least 26 people in DR Congo's West Kasai region in recent weeks, according to the country's Health Minister Victor Makwenge Kaput.
It spreads by direct human contact, especially through infected blood.
The Ebola virus was first identified in 1976 in Sudan and in a nearby region of Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Zaire). Outbreaks of Ebola have also occurred in the Ivory Coast and Gabon.