DAR -ES-SALAAM]Tanzania has heightened disease surveillance and prevention measures to contain its first-ever outbreak of Marburg Virus Disease (MVD), which is highly infectious and potentially fatal. 

MVD is a haemorrhagic fever in the same family as Ebola, with no vaccines or treatments approved to treat it. 

The virus is initially transmitted to people from fruit bats and spreads among humans through contact with the bodily fluids of infected people, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

“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.”

Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, acting director, Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Rapid response teams have been deployed to investigate the outbreak and implement interventions such as contact tracing and “risk communication activities” in the affected area of Tanzania, said the WHO.

A 23-year-old fisherman who had travelled to Goziba Island in Lake Victoria fell ill on return to his home village in Bukoba municipality in the Kagera region of the country. He died on 1 March. His symptoms included vomiting, fever, bleeding, and kidney failure. 

Four other people died with similar symptoms, including a health worker who was in contact with the patients at a health centre in the village of Maruku.

The deaths sparked fears of an outbreak of what the Tanzanian ministry of health described as a “contagious disease” in the region. The ministry confirmed last week (21 March) that it was an outbreak of MVD after laboratory testing.

A total of eight cases had been reported as of 22 March — four of them from the same family as the fisherman. The three surviving patients, including a second health worker, were undergoing treatment at health facilities in Bukoba. 

So far 205 people have been quarantined in Bukoba, said health minister Ummy Mwalimu during a press briefing on 25 March.  No cases had been reported from outside the Bukoba district.

Tumaini Nagu, Tanzania’s chief medical officer, told SciDev.Net that health advocacy campaigns had been scaled up in rural communities where the outbreak was first reported. 

Residents are encouraged to adhere to hand washing and safe and dignified burials involving municipal authorities.

“We are getting good support from the community,” Nagu said. 

She explained that interventions were in place to ensure effective case management while observing infection prevention and control to prevent further transmission of the disease. 

“Contacts have been quarantined and are followed up daily,” Nagu added.

“Should they develop any symptoms, samples will be taken for testing.” 

Gideon Rugumamu, a resident of Bukoba town, says responses are mixed among members of the community.

“There are people who believe it’s Ebola,” he told SciDev.Net.

“There is a bit of anxiety here after deaths were reported. But there are people who still ignore warnings, believing it’s not a serious disease.” 

MVD is caused by a virus of the Filoviridae family that causes haemorrhagic diseases such as Ebola. According to the WHO, patients are offered supportive care and treatment of specific symptoms to improve survival in the absence of approved treatments.

By Syriacus Buguzi

Source: scidev.net