For the past six days, Tanzania’s scientists have struggled to identify the deadly pathogen that killed five people in Tanzania’s north-western Kagera region.
Today, at an impromptu press called upon by the ministry of health under Hon. Minister Ummy Mwalimu, the government revealed the virus after a series of scientific laboratory experiments.
The minister of health, Ummy Mwalimu, revealed that the virus that killed five people in Kagera is known as Marburg virus. The minister said that until now, eight people had been identified to have contracted the virus, five of whom have died, and three are under close care of the government.
The chief medical officer of the Bukoba region said four people who died from the virus were family members, and one is the medical officer of the local health center in Kagera.
Minister Ummy also said the government has contained the disease not to spread to other districts, and there are more than 100 people worried about having contact with the deceased, whom the government is currency tracing to put them under control to avoid further transmissions.
When asked by the journalists about where the first person died, the virus might have contracted the disease; the minister said the person was reported to have arrived in Kagera town from a nearby Island known as Goziba.
How is the disease transmitted?
- It spreads from its animal host to people; unprotected contact with infected bat feces or aerosols is the most likely route of infection.
- The virus spreads through contact (such as through broken skin or mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, or mouth) with
- Blood or body fluids (urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, amniotic fluid, and semen) of a person who is sick with or died from Marburg virus disease, or
- Objects contaminated with body fluids from a person who is sick with or has died from Marburg virus disease (such as clothes, bedding, needles, and medical equipment).
- Semen from a man who recovered from MVD (through oral, vaginal, or anal sex). Data on Marburg virus is limited; however, it is known to persist in the testicles and inside of the eye, similar to ebolaviruses. Since Marburg virus and ebolaviruses are both in the same virus family (Filoviridae) it can be assumed that the persistence of the Marburg virus in other immune-privileged sites (placenta, central nervous system) may be similar. There is no evidence that the Marburg virus can spread through sex or other contact with vaginal fluids from a woman who has had MVD.
There is no specific treatment for Marburg virus disease. Supportive hospital therapy should be utilized, including balancing the patient’s fluids and electrolytes, maintaining oxygen status and blood pressure, replacing lost blood and clotting factors, and treating any complicating infections.
Experimental treatments are validated in non-human primate models but have never been tried in humans.
Preventive measures against Marburg virus infection are not well defined, as transmission from wildlife to people remains an area of ongoing research. However, avoiding fruit bats (Rousettus aegyptiacus) and sick non-human primates is one way to protect against infection.
Measures for prevention of secondary, or person-to-person, transmission are like those used for other hemorrhagic fevers. If a patient is either suspected or confirmed to have Marburg virus disease (MVD), infection prevention and control measures should be used to prevent direct physical contact with the patient. These precautions include wearing protective gowns, gloves, and masks; placing the infected individual in strict isolation; and sterilizing or properly disposing of needles, equipment, and patient excretions.
MVD is a sporadic disease in people. However, when it occurs, it has the potential to spread to other people, especially healthcare staff and family members who care for the patient. Increasing awareness in communities and among healthcare providers of the clinical symptoms of patients with MVD is critical. Better awareness can lead to earlier and stronger precautions against spreading the Marburg virus among family members and healthcare providers.
Improving the use of diagnostic tools is another priority. With modern means of transportation giving access even to remote areas, it is possible to obtain rapid testing of samples in disease control centers equipped with Biosafety Level 4 laboratories (laboratories equipped with the highest level of biosafety precautions) to confirm or rule out Marburg virus infection.