Deadly Marburg virus detected in Tanzania for the first time

·3-min read

Tanzania has confirmed its first-ever cases of the Marburg virus, a frequently deadly viral haemorrhagic fever that is closely related to Ebola.

Eight people developed symptoms including fever, vomiting, bleeding and kidney failure. Five of them died, the World Health Organization said.

The outbreak is the second underway in Africa, after Equatorial Guinea in February also detected the illness. Officials said 11 deaths were thought to have been caused in that country, but there has been little information released since.

Marburg belongs to the same filovirus family as Ebola and can kill as many as nine-in-10 of those who become infected.

Patients begin with high fever, severe headaches and malaise, before starting to haemorrhage and bleed from bodily orifices within seven days.

The virus spreads to people from fruit bats and spreads among humans through direct contact with bodily fluids such as blood, saliva, mucus. There are no vaccines or antiviral treatments approved, but good quality medical care greatly improves survival rates.

Uganda faced a four-month-long Ebola outbreak from September, which killed 55 people.

Health security ‘needs to be strengthened’

Sir Peter Horby, professor of emerging infections and global health at the University of Oxford, said the three filovirus outbreaks in six months showed the need for “pre-approved platform trials for vaccines and treatments that can start rapidly”.

The dead among the Tanzania outbreak included a health worker, and 161 contacts were being monitored, the WHO said.

Matshidiso Moeti, the United Nations' body's Africa director, said: “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.”

“We are working with the government to rapidly scale up control measures to halt the spread of the virus.”

The outbreak in the Kagera region has struck a highly mobile local population in the northwest of Tanzania, bordered by Uganda to the north, Rwanda to the west and Burundi to the south-west.

“The high population mobility within the region poses a risk of cross-border spread,” said a joint statement from the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and African Union.

Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, acting director of the Africa CDC, urged countries to keep sharing timely updates.

He said: “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.”

The WHO warned in September 2022 that Tanzania was at a high risk for infectious diseases outbreaks.

Marburg was first recognised in 1967, when outbreaks of haemorrhagic fever occurred simultaneously in laboratories in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany and in Belgrade, then Yugoslavia.

The infections were traced back to three laboratories which received a shared shipment of infected African green monkeys.

Thirty-one people became ill, initially laboratory workers followed by several medical personnel and family members who had cared for them. Seven deaths were reported. The first people infected had been exposed to Ugandan imported African green monkeys or their tissues while conducting research.

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