On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that Tanzania has confirmed its first-ever cases of Marburg Virus Disease. Laboratory tests were conducted in the country’s northwest Kagera region, after eight people developed symptoms of the “highly virulent” disease, including fever, vomiting, bleeding, and kidney failure.
Out of the eight confirmed cases, five have unfortunately died, including a health worker, while the remaining three are receiving treatment. The WHO has also identified 161 contacts of those infected, who are currently being monitored.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, praised Tanzania’s health authorities for their efforts in establishing the cause of the disease, which is a clear indication of their determination to effectively respond to the outbreak. The agency is 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.
While this is the first time Tanzania has recorded a Marburg case, the country has first-hand experience responding to other crises, including COVID-19, cholera, and dengue within the past three years.
In September 2022, the UN health agency conducted a strategic risk assessment that revealed Tanzania is at high to very high risk for infectious diseases outbreaks. However, the lessons learned and progress made during other recent outbreaks should help the country confront this latest challenge. Dr Moeti assured the national health authorities of the WHO’s continued support in saving lives.
Marburg virus is known to commonly cause hemorrhagic fever, with a high fatality ratio of up to 88 per cent. It is part of the same family as the virus that causes Ebola. According to the WHO, symptoms associated with the Marburg virus start suddenly, with high fever, severe headache, and intense malaise.
The virus is commonly transmitted to humans from fruit bats and spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids of infected people, surfaces, and materials. While there are no vaccines or antiviral treatments approved to treat the virus, supportive care, rehydration, and treatment of specific symptoms can increase chances of survival.