The United States has issued a travel advisory for its citizens planning to visit Equatorial Guinea and Tanzania, where Marburg virus disease (MVD) outbreaks have been reported.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that travelers to these countries might be at risk of exposure to the deadly virus, which causes severe and often fatal hemorrhagic fever in humans and non-human primates.
The CDC advised travelers to avoid contact with sick people, animals, and their products and to practice good hand hygiene and infection prevention measures, reports CNN.
The CDC also recommended that travelers seek medical attention immediately if they develop fever, headache, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, or bleeding within 21 days after returning from these countries.
What is the Marburg virus?
Marburg virus is a member of the filovirus family, including Ebola. It was first identified in 1967 during outbreaks in Germany and Serbia linked to laboratory work using African green monkeys imported from Uganda.
Since then, several outbreaks of MVD have occurred in Africa, with case fatality rates ranging from 24% to 88%, depending on the virus strain and the quality of care.
The natural reservoir of the Marburg virus is believed to be fruit bats of the genus Rousettus, which can transmit the virus to humans through contact with their saliva, urine, feces, or blood.
Human-to-human transmission can also occur through direct contact with an infected patient’s bodily fluids or tissues or contaminated surfaces and materials.
There is no specific treatment or vaccine for MVD, and supportive care to manage symptoms and prevent complications is the mainstay of therapy.
Early detection and isolation of cases, contact tracing and monitoring, infection control and prevention measures, and community engagement are key to controlling outbreaks.
What is the situation in Africa?
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared two separate outbreaks of MVD in Equatorial Guinea and Tanzania in February and March 2023, respectively. These are the first-ever outbreaks of MVD in these countries.
In Equatorial Guinea, the outbreak was linked to a funeral ceremony in a rural area where a 37-year-old man died of an unknown hemorrhagic fever. The man had visited a cave inhabited by fruit bats before falling ill.
As of April 1, 2023, 35 confirmed cases and 27 deaths have been reported from four provinces, including the capital city of Bata.
In Tanzania, the outbreak was detected after eight suspected cases, five of which were fatal, was reported from two regions.
The index case was a 46-year-old woman who had contact with a sick monkey before developing symptoms.
The other cases were her close contacts or healthcare workers who attended to her. The outbreak is currently under investigation by the Tanzanian authorities and the WHO.
How are other countries responding?
The WHO has classified the risk of spread of MVD as very high at the national and regional levels and moderate at the global level.
The WHO has deployed teams of experts and supplies to support the affected countries in their response efforts.
The WHO has also activated its regional emergency operations center and global outbreak alert and response network to coordinate technical and operational support.
Several countries have taken precautionary measures to prevent the importation of MVD cases from Equatorial Guinea and Tanzania.
Until further notice, Saudi Arabia and Oman have imposed travel restrictions on travelers from these countries until further notice.
Other countries have enhanced their surveillance and preparedness capacities at entry points and health facilities.
The international community has supported the affected countries and pledged financial and technical assistance to contain the outbreaks.
The African Union Commission has mobilized $2 million from its Africa CDC Emergency Operational Fund to support the response efforts.
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