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Kenya heightens surveillance after outbreak of Marburg in Tanzania

Nairobi, March 23 (IANS) Kenyan health authorities have said they are on high alert after neighbouring Tanzania detected the first-ever case of Marburg virus disease in the country’s northwest Kagera region.

The Health Ministry on Wednesday directed all health personnel at the various points of entry to ensure all travellers entering the country from Tanzania are screened.

Tanzanian health authorities said on Tuesday that laboratory tests show that a strange illness that killed five people in Kagera region last week was caused by the Marburg virus, Xinhua news agency reported.

Benjamin Murkomen, port health officer in Kenya’s Ministry of Health, directed all health surveillance staff and emergency response teams to enhance screening as the virus continues to spread in parts of Tanzania.

World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said the WHO is working with the Tanzanian government to “rapidly scale up control measures to halt the spread of the virus and end the outbreak as soon as possible”.

According to the WHO, Marburg virus disease is highly virulent and causes hemorrhagic 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 caused by the Marburg virus begins abruptly, with high fever, severe headache, and severe malaise. Many patients develop severe hemorrhagic 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, the WHO said.

However, supportive care — rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids — and treatment of specific symptoms improve survival.