By Sharon Atieno
With five people dead and three receiving treatment, Tanzania has confirmed its first-ever cases of Marburg Virus Disease- a haemorrhagic disease in the same virus family that causes Ebola.
This follows an analysis of samples by Tanzania’s National Public Health Laboratory to determine the cause of illness after eight people in the country’s north-west Kagera region developed symptoms including fever, vomiting, bleeding and renal failure.
Currently, a total of 161 contacts have been identified and are being monitored.
“The efforts by Tanzania’s health authorities to establish the cause of the disease is a clear indication of the determination to effectively respond to the outbreak,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa.
“We are working with the government to rapidly scale up control measures to halt the spread of the virus and end the outbreak as soon as possible.”
WHO is supporting the Ministry of Health to deploy an emergency team to Kagera to carry out further epidemiological investigations. The emergency team will focus on active case finding in the community and local health care facilities to identify more contacts and provide them with appropriate care.
“The lessons learnt, and progress made during other recent outbreaks should stand the country in good stead as it confronts this latest challenge,” said Dr Moeti. “We will continue to work closely with the national health authorities to save lives.”
With a fatality ratio of up to 88%, illness caused by Marburg virus begins abruptly, with high fever, severe headache and severe malaise. Many patients develop severe haemorrhagic symptoms within seven days.
The virus is transmitted to people from fruit bats and spreads among humans through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected people, surfaces and materials.
There are no vaccines or antiviral treatments approved to treat the virus. However, supportive care – rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids – and treatment of specific symptoms, improves survival.
Previous cases of the disease have been reported in Guinea, Ghana, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda.