- The current outbreak of Marburg fever in northern Angola continues to take more lives. As the epidemic now has spread to a forth Angolan province , four African countries have gone on alert to prevent the Ebola-like Marburg virus from spreading. Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is urging calm and says that the outbreak is controllable. There are suspicions that the WHO is under-reporting cases.
As of 31 March, 140 cases of Marburg virus disease have been reported in Angola. Of these, 132 have been fatal, according to information released by WHO and the Angolan Ministry of Health today. Local officials however operate with higher numbers. The Marburg outbreak, concentrated in Angola's northern Uige province, is already the deadliest ever recorded. Also the fatality rate, close to 100 percent, is a new record.
While the government insists that the Marburg epidemic remains "concentrated in Uige," there are now confirmed reports of cases in at least three more Angolan provinces. WHO speaks of 16 persons currently quarantined in Angola's north-western exclave Cabinda. Earlier reports from Cabinda's provincial hospital however indicated several confirmed cases and at least one Marburg-related death.
Earlier reports also confirmed several cases of Marburg in Luanda, Angola's capital, were at least four deaths had been registered. Another unnamed northern Angolan province also was said to have reported cases. While the joint statement by WHO and the Ministry of Health refer to confirmed Marburg cases on a national level, the released numbers actually seem to refer to cases in Uige province only.
The confusing signals from Angola's Ministry of Health and the apparent spread of the outbreak in Angola have caused a high alert in neighbouring countries. Health officials in Congo Kinshasa (DRC), which borders the Uige province, are closely monitoring the situation and have placed restrictions on movements across the border. WHO today said it was "working with the Ministry of Health" in Congo Kinshasa "to train local staff in the border area near Angola in case detection and management."
Also in Congo Brazzaville, which has a common border with the Cabinda exclave, health officials are on alert. The island state of Săo Tomé and Príncipe, with flight connections to Luanda, equally is on high alert. Even the East African nation of Kenya has taken precautions after a Portuguese citizen died on his return from Angola to Portugal, causing ongoing investigations into his death. Also in Italy, nine persons that had been in contact with an infected Angolan are now in quarantine.
Meanwhile, the WHO is urging for calm, saying that the Marburg outbreak is "controllable". Mobile surveillance teams in Uige were continuing to follow up on rumours and conduct active searches for additional cases, WHO said. "Contact tracing has also been intensified." These activities were now supported by a mobile laboratory in Uige, which had "greatly expedited" diagnostic testing.
WHO officials today emphasised that an outbreak of the Marburg virus was easier to contain than an Ebola outbreak. Marburg, which is mostly spread through contact with bodily fluids, thus making it less contagious than Ebola. The current Marburg outbreak however has an extremely high fatality rate. There are still no reports of persons cured during this outbreak.
The disease was first identified in 1967 during simultaneous outbreaks affecting laboratory workers in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany, and in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. The outbreaks, which involved 31 cases and seven deaths, were subsequently linked to contact with infected monkeys imported from Uganda. Until the current outbreak, a 1998-2000 outbreak in Congo Kinshasa was the largest registered, with 149 cases, of which 123 were fatal.
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