In February A 23-year-old Tanzanian fisherman suddenly fell ill after returning from a commercial station in the middle of Lake Victoria. When he returned home in Bukoba district in northwest Tanzania, he was struck with vomiting and diarrhoea. He developed a fever and began to bleed from the pores of his body. He died on March 1.
The family and community held a formal funeral – not knowing that this gathering would be the start of a deadly epidemic. Soon some of those present began to fall ill. On March 16, Tanzania’s chief medical officer announced the discovery of an unknown, “probably contagious” illness and deployed a rapid response team to Bukoba. Finally, five days later, a PCR test at Tanzania’s National Public Health Laboratory revealed the Marburg virus as the cause.
Marburg was not the first to be seen this year. On February 13, Equatorial Guinea reported its first outbreak. The simultaneous spread of a deadly virus in new areas on opposite sides of the continent is a big warning. This shows not only the ever-present threat of viruses entering humans from nature, but once again, the world’s ill-preparedness to deal with these threats.
Marburg shares many characteristics with Ebola – viruses are part of the same family. Like Ebola, the virus causes hemorrhagic fever, which causes severe internal bleeding and organ damage. In some outbreaks, up to 90 percent of cases have been fatal; At the time of writing, five of the eight confirmed cases in Tanzania have died. Symptoms take a few days to three weeks to develop, and the virus can be transmitted through human contact, especially the bodily fluids of an infected person or a corpse. Fruit-eating bats Russets Family is the suspect of the virus.
Abela Kakuru, a resident of Ibarazibu, a 10-minute drive from Bukoba’s affected villages, said: “Most people in this village have the same symptoms that they believe are Ebola. But there is one big difference: unlike Ebola, no vaccines or antivirals are allowed in Marburg. Fluids, electrolytes, blood and oxygen can be given to treat the symptoms, but nothing yet can contain or fight the virus. “Patient support is the cornerstone of treatment,” Tanzania’s Health Minister Umi Mwalimu said in a press release at the end of March.
Thankfully, developing a vaccine doesn’t have to start from scratch. Several experimental vaccines have shown promise in nonhuman primates, and one from the Sabin Institute has recently been tested in a few humans. It has been found to be safe and stimulate the immune response.
The World Health Organization is now planning to start testing some of the experimental vaccines known as ring vaccines. “This means that we are bringing the vaccine into close contact with the cases,” said Ana-Maria Henao Restrepo, co-head of WHO R&D on Invasion Epidemics. “This is in our experience 20 to 50 people in each case, depending on the social network.” Statistical analysis of how many contacts later become infected allows researchers to calculate how well the vaccines work.