Kenya is on high alert after Tanzania confirmed an outbreak of Marburg virus.
The Ministry of Health has called on health officials at the various points of entry to ensure all travellers entering the country from Tanzania are screened to pick up any cases of the virus before entering the country.
“This is to notify you that the health authorities in Tanzania on March 17 issued an alert and declared the outbreak of an unnamed epidemic disease considered to be contagious,” Benjamin Murkomen, a port health officer has said in a memo to all surveillance staff.
“The symptoms include fever, vomiting, bleeding from different parts of the body and liver failure. By copy of this memo, you are reminded to enhance screening of travellers who are arriving from this region.”
Tanzania on Tuesday confirmed its first-ever cases of Marburg Virus Disease after laboratory tests were carried out following reports of cases and deaths in the country’s north-west Kagera region.
Tanzania’s National Public Health Laboratory analysed samples to determine the cause of illness after eight people developed symptoms including fever, vomiting, bleeding and renal failure. Five of the eight cases, including a health worker, have died and the remaining three are receiving treatment. A total of 161 contacts have been identified and being monitored.
“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 and end the outbreak as soon as possible,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa.
While Tanzania has never previously recorded a Marburg case, it has had to respond to other health emergencies including COVID-19, cholera and dengue within the past three years. A strategic risk assessment conducted by WHO in September 2022 showed that the country is at high to very high risk for infectious diseases outbreaks.
“The lessons learnt, and progress made during other recent outbreaks should stand the country in good stead as it confronts this latest challenge,” said Dr Moeti. “We will continue to work closely with the national health authorities to save lives.”
Marburg virus disease is highly virulent and causes haemorrhagic fever, with a fatality ratio of up to 88%. It is in the same family as the virus that causes Ebola virus disease. 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, improves survival.