Somalia: Mysterious deaths among African Union troops, investigations begin

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Ugandan public health experts are investigating a disease that has killed at least five African Union peacekeepers in Somalia and infected another 50, who have been evacuated to a Kenyan hospital, officials said.

“Our head of public health, Lt-Col Sam Kasule, is in Mogadishu [the Somali capital] to investigate and we are waiting for his report to find a proper response to the outbreak,” Col Felix Kulaigye, spokesman for the Ugandan army, told IRIN on 30 July.

Uganda and Burundi have contributed a total of 4,300 troops to the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), with the majority (2,700) Ugandan.

The symptoms include chest pain, fever, headache, swelling of the lower limbs, rapid heart-beat and respiratory problems.

“The ailment first hit the Burundian contingent… [several] were flown to Nairobi for treatment,” Kulaigye said. “It eventually hit our camp and has since killed two, while 17 are in intensive care in Nairobi.”

He said preliminary reports pointed to an outbreak of Leptospirosis, a bacterial disease caused by exposure to water contaminated with the urine of infected animals.

According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects humans and animals. Its early stages include high fever, severe headache, muscle pain, chills, redness in the eyes, abdominal pain, jaundice, haemorrhages in skin and mucous membranes, vomiting, diarrhoea and a rash.

Humans become infected through contact with water, food or soil containing urine from infected animals, such as dogs or rats, according to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This may happen by swallowing contaminated food or water, through skin contact, such as the eyes or nose, or contact with broken skin.

WHO says the disease is often difficult to diagnose clinically, requiring laboratory support.

The CDC says if untreated, a Leptospirosis patient can develop kidney damage, meningitis (inflammation of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord), liver failure and respiratory distress.

The disease is not known to spread from person to person. The time between exposure and developing symptoms is about four weeks and the illness lasts from a few days to three weeks.

Leptospirosis is an occupational hazard for people who work outdoors or with animals, such as farmers, veterinarians, fishermen, or the military.

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