Kenya monitors family after Ugandan dies of Marburg virus

Businessman was in Kenya to seek medicine from a local herbalist.

Health experts bury a Marburg victim on October 26, 2017 in Kween District, Uganda. PHOTO | JOYCE CHEMUTAI | DAILY MONITOR 

IN SUMMARY

  • Kenyan family put under observation for 21 days.
  • Ugandan authorities confirmed that the man died of the disease immediately after visiting the home of the Kenyan herbalist, Ms Fridah Etyang’, at Bwayi village, Kaisagat location, in Kwanza Constituency, to seek medical help.
  • Although the disease is rare, it can result in large outbreaks with high case fatality rates. The disease is transmitted by direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected persons or wild animals, including monkeys and fruit bats.

A family of seven in Trans Nzoia County western Kenya has been put under observation after a Ugandan who visited their homestead died of the highly contagious Marburg virus.

Ugandan authorities confirmed that the man died of the disease immediately after visiting the home of the Kenyan herbalist, Ms Fridah Etyang’, at Bwayi village, Kaisagat location, in Kwanza Constituency, to seek medical help.

“The patient, who is a prominent businessman, crossed into Kenya via Amakuriat in West Pokot before heading to the herbalist’s home for treatment,” said Mr Gilbert Sowon, the county director of preventive and promotive health services.

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The Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) Wednesday said samples taken from Ms Etyang’ on Monday tested negative of both Ebola and Marburg viruses, but the Kitale County Hospital Medical Superintendent, Dr Emmanuel Wanjala, said Ms Etyang’ and her family would still be put under observation for 21 days “since the incubation period of the disease is between two and three weeks.”

A map showing Kween district in Uganda and Kenya’s Trans Nzoia County where there has been suspected cases of the Ebola-like Marburg virus. MAP | GOOGLE 

Mr Wanjala added that medical workers were carrying out intense mobilisation and contact tracing through public health officers, provincial administration, and ward administrators to ensure that whoever interacted with the deceased is tested.

“We have also trained health care workers and community health volunteers on the signs and symptoms of the infection,” he added.

Marburg is a severe and highly fatal disease caused by the Marburg virus from the Filoviridae family — the same family as the Ebola virus. This virus is among the most virulent pathogens known to infect humans. The incubation period is two to 21 days, and symptom onset is sudden and marked by fever, chills, headache and muscle pain.

Although the disease is rare, it can result in large outbreaks with high case fatality rates. The disease is transmitted by direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected persons or wild animals, including monkeys and fruit bats.

The WHO, while confirming the outbreak in eastern Uganda, says it is aware of at least one fatality, but several hundred people may have been exposed to the virus at health facilities and at traditional burial ceremonies in Kween District, a mountainous area 300 kilometres northeast of Kampala.

READ: WHO releases $500,000 to contain plague, Marburg

The first case was detected on October 17 by the Ministry of Health, when a 50-year-old woman died at a health centre of fever, bleeding, vomiting and diarrhoea on October 11. Laboratory testing at the Uganda Virus Research Institute confirmed the cause of death as Marburg.

The woman’s brother had also died of similar symptoms three weeks earlier and was buried at a traditional funeral. He worked as a game hunter and lived near a cave inhabited by Rousettus bats, which are natural hosts of the Marburg virus.

“We are working with health authorities to rapidly implement response measures,” said Ibrahima-Soce Fall, WHO regional emergency director for the African region.

Past outbreaks

  • 2007: Four cases, including two deaths, in Ibanda District, western Uganda.
  • 2008: Two unrelated cases in travellers returning to the Netherlands and USA, respectively after visiting caves in western Uganda.
  • 2012: Fifteen cases, including four deaths, in Ibanda and Kabale districts, western Uganda.
  • 2014: One case of a healthcare professional from Mpigi District, central Uganda.

Reported by Gerald Bwisa.

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