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Tanzania declares an end to Marburg virus outbreak

by Haruna Gimba
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By Asmau Ahmad

Tanzania on Friday, declared an end to the Marburg Virus Disease outbreak which was confirmed just over two months ago in the north-western Kagera region.

It was the country’s first outbreak of the disease.

A total of nine cases (eight confirmed and one probable) and six deaths were recorded in the outbreak which was declared on March 21 after laboratory analysis confirmed that the cause of deaths and illnesses that were reported earlier in the region was Marburg.

The national health authorities with support from World Health Organisation and partner organisations immediately rolled out an outbreak response to stop the spread of the virus and save lives.

The last confirmed case tested negative for the second test of Marburg on April 19, setting off the 42-day mandatory countdown to declare the end of the outbreak.

Marburg is highly virulent and causes haemorrhagic fever, with a fatality ratio of up to 88 per cent. It is in the same family as the virus that causes Ebola virus disease. Illness 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.

In Africa, previous outbreaks and sporadic cases have been reported in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Equatorial Guinea, South Africa, and Uganda.

The WHO, in a press statement, noted that it has been working with countries to reinforce readiness and response to health emergencies in the African region, with teams of first responders trained in the key aspects of outbreak preparedness, response, and control.

The organisation said in Tanzania, teams of responders – one trained in March 2023 and another in 2022 as neighbouring Uganda battled an outbreak of Sudan Virus Disease – were instrumental in controlling the just-ended Marburg outbreak.

“With the investments being made to prepare for and tackle health emergencies in the region, we are responding even faster and more effectively to save lives, livelihoods and safeguard health,” said the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti.

WHO said it deployed outbreak response experts to reinforce surveillance, testing, infection prevention and control, contact tracing, treatment, and community engagement with support of the national efforts and partners.

“Thanks to these efforts, Tanzania has been able to end this outbreak and limit the potentially devastating impacts of a highly infectious disease,” Dr Moeti said.

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