Angolan outbreak of Marburg disease sets death toll record: UN health agency

31 March 2005

The death toll from Marburg virus in Angola has already surpassed the largest number of fatalities ever recorded during an outbreak of this rare but highly lethal haemorrhagic disease with epidemic potential, the United Nations health agency announced today.

As of 30 March, 132 cases have been reported, 127 of them fatal, including some health care workers, the World Health Organization (WHO) said. The previous highest death toll occurred from 1998 to 2000 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), when 123 people died out of 149 cases, the largest outbreak on record of the disease, which is of the same family as the deadly Ebola.

WHO has dispatched 500 kilos of personal protective equipment and other supplies to assist in the immediate improvement of infection control in hospitals and the protection of front-line staff in the region around Uige Province, the epicentre of the outbreak. Close contact with bodily fluids of infected people, as in medical care or burial, appears to increase the risk of infection, and 12 of the current cases involve health workers.

To assist real-time coordination of response operations, WHO has dispatched mobile communication field kits, which should greatly expedite the flow of information on the disease, which begins with severe diarrhoea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and chest and lung pains, with a high proportion developing severe haemorrhage in the gastrointestinal tract and lungs.

Additional staff from WHO and the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN), a technical collaboration of existing institutions and networks, are set to arrive over the weekend. Two logisticians will join teams in Uige and Luanda, the Angolan capital. A data manager, media coordinator and medical anthropologist will also be arriving over the weekend.

A mobile field laboratory provided by the Canadian National Microbiology Laboratory arrived yesterday, was set up in Uige today and will become operational tomorrow. An isolation facility, operated by the non-governmental organization (NGO) Médecins sans Frontières, is to receive further cases that may be identified by mobile surveillance teams.

Marburg occurs very rarely and appears to be geographically confined to a few countries in southern Africa. It 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.

 

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