Tanzania has confirmed an outbreak of Marburg virus disease, a highly virulent disease that causes hemorrhagic fever. The preliminary tests carried out following the deaths of at least five people in Kagera and Bukoba turned out positive on some of the samples for the viral hemorrhagic fever. Tanzanian health authorities sent samples to the reference laboratory to determine the cause of the disease after an alert by district health officials.
So far, there have been five deaths and seven suspected cases with symptoms including fever, fatigue, and blood-stained vomit and diarrhea. Further investigations are ongoing. Advance teams have been deployed in the affected districts to trace contacts, isolate, and provide medical care to people showing symptoms of the disease.
Marburg virus disease is in the same family as the virus that causes Ebola virus disease. It is a highly virulent disease that causes hemorrhagic fever, 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 improve survival.
Efforts are underway to rapidly mount emergency response, with WHO deploying health emergency experts in epidemiology, case management, infection prevention, laboratory, and risk communication to support the national response efforts and secure community collaboration in the outbreak control. A range of potential treatments, including blood products, immune therapies, and drug therapies, as well as candidate vaccines with phase 1 data, are being evaluated.
It is critical to act swiftly in responding to outbreaks of highly infectious diseases like Marburg virus disease. The Tanzanian government’s rapid response to the outbreak is commendable, and the WHO’s deployment of experts to support the national response efforts is essential. The global community must continue to support and invest in public health systems to detect, respond to, and control outbreaks of infectious diseases to protect the health and well-being of individuals, communities, and populations.