Tanzania announces outbreak of deadly Marburg virus disease

StarAvis Desk
StarAvis Desk
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Colorized transmission electron micrograph of Marburg virus particles IMAGE POINT FR/NIH/NIAID/BSIP/Universal Images Group—Getty Images

Five deaths and three cases of the Ebola-like virus have been reported in the country’s northwest.

Tanzania has announced its first outbreak of the deadly Marburg virus disease (MVD) after five fatalities and three other cases were reported at a hospital in the country’s northwest Kagera region.

Through contact tracing, approximately 161 people have been identified as at risk of infection, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The government has deployed an emergency response team to the area, and neighboring countries have stepped up surveillance. No cases have yet been reported outside Kagera.

“The efforts by Tanzania’s health authorities to establish the cause of the disease is a clear indication of the determination to respond to the outbreak effectively,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s 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.”

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Patients displaying disease symptoms were first detected last week in two Kagera villages, according to a health memorandum on Tuesday by the Tanzanian health minister Ummy Mwalimu.

Tanzania confirms first-ever outbreak of Marburg virus disease [Courtesy: WHO]

MVD was discovered in 1967 in Marburg and Frankfurt in Germany and Belgrade, Serbia. It is from the same “virus family” as Ebola and causes severe hemorrhagic fever, while fatality rates have varied from 24% to 88%. There have been several outbreaks since its discovery, the worst being in Angola in 2004-2005, with 252 cases and 227 deaths.

The virus is initially transmitted to people from fruit bats and then from person to person through body fluids or contaminated objects. Family members and health workers are particularly vulnerable to infection.

Symptoms of the disease can range from fever, nausea, and rash at the onset, to jaundice and severe weight loss as the disease progresses. It has an incubation period of up to 21 days.

There are no vaccines or treatments for the virus, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alleviating symptoms by rehydration or managing the patient’s blood and oxygen levels can increase the chances of survival.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) also supports efforts to contain the outbreak. Tanzania is battling the virus for the first time, just a month after Equatorial Guinea confirmed its first case.

“These emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases are a sign that the health security of the continent needs to be strengthened to cope with the disease threats,” said Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, the director of Africa CDC. “We urge public members to continue sharing information promptly with the authorities to enable a most effective response.”

Tanzania’s health ministry has called on citizens to take general precautions and follow health directives until the situation is controlled.

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