The deadly Marburg haemorrhagic fever in the southwestern Ugandan district of Kabale claimed a fifth life from the same family at the weekend.
Dr Patrick Tusiime, the Kabale district health officer, told The Observer that the fifth victim died on Saturday morning and was quickly buried by a team of health officials to avert the spread of the disease. The Uganda Virus Research Institute and the ministry of Health confirmed the outbreak of the Marburg virus in Rwabihondo village, Kitumba parish, Ndorwa West constituency, on Friday.
The victims include Boaz Turyahikayo, a lecturer at Uganda Christian University and his sister, Mildred Ansasiire, a primary school teacher.
“We have restricted family members from moving out to avoid spreading the disease,” Dr Tusiime explained, adding that the family members would be confined in their home from where they would be monitored for 9-10 days.
Marburg hemorrhagic fever is caused by a virus in the same family as Ebola. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says both viruses share many similarities. For instance, both are rare but highly contagious and kill in a short time. The new Marburg outbreak was confirmed just weeks after the country was declared free of the Ebola haemorrhagic fever that killed 17 people in Kibaale district.
Marburg, Dr Tusiime explained, just like Ebola, is spread when one comes into contact with body fluids (blood, stool, urine, saliva, and vomit) of an infected person. He said the disease has not spread to other villages in the district. Dr Asuman Lukwago, Permanent Secretary in the ministry of Health, said they are doing everything possible to contain the spread of the disease.
“We are still tracking all those people who could have had primary or secondary contact with those who died,” Dr Lukwago said.
A person suffering from Marburg, doctors say, presents with sudden onset of high fever with any of the following: headache, vomiting blood, joint and muscle pains and bleeding through the body openings (eyes, nose, gums, ears, anus and the skin).
Marburg patients experience very rapid high fever followed by diarrhoea, vomiting and severe bleeding. Marburg has no vaccine and, therefore, caregivers require barrier infection control measures, including double gloves, impermeable gowns, face shields, eye protection as well as leg and shoe coverings.
This virus was first documented in 1967 in the German town of Marburg, after which it is named, as well as in Frankfurt am Main and the then Yugoslavian city of Belgrade. It was first reported in Uganda in 2007/2008 after a Dutch woman, who had visited the python cave during her holiday in Western Uganda died of the virus.
A major outbreak of Marburg occurred among gold miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1998 and 2000, causing 128 deaths out of 154 reported cases. An outbreak in Angola in 2004-05 killed 150 people out of 163 reported cases.
Since the virus has no specific treatment, precautionary measures are the best way to guard against it. Dr Lukwago urges the public to avoid direct bodily contact with a person suffering from Marburg and unnecessary public gatherings, among other measures.
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