Kenya on high alert after Tanzania reports Marburg disease outbreak

Kenya has heightened disease surveillance systems across its border points following the detection of the Marburg virus disease (MVD) in Tanzania.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Dr Patrick Amoth, the acting director-general for health at Kenya’s Ministry of Health, noted that county health officials had been ordered to remain on high alert to identify any possible outbreak of the disease within Kenya's borders.

Dr Amoth's sentiments come after eight confirmed cases of the killer disease were recorded in Bukoba, Kagera Province in north-western Tanzania and the south-western shores of Lake Victoria.

Five people have since died of the disease in Kagera after displaying symptoms such as fever, vomiting, diarrhoea and bleeding through various body openings.

"The ministry wishes to inform the general public to be on high alert and report any unusual increase in individuals presenting with high fever of unknown cause, and especially those with history of travel to Tanzania," said Dr Amoth. 

"Such individuals are advised to immediately report to the nearest health facility for assessment and management," he said.

MVD infections on radar

Dr Amoth added that owing to the proximity of the disease's epicentres to Kenya, the state could not afford laxness when it comes to detecting any new MVD infections.  

"Bukoba is the second largest port after Mwanza on Lake Victoria in Tanzania. The town is served by the Bukoba Airport and regular ferry connections to and from Mwanza that has connections with Kisumu in Kenya," he said. 

"There are a number of buses that ply the route between Bukoba and Kampala in Uganda on a daily basis and some of which end up in certain destinations in Kenya. Further, it has been established that at least two buses with capacity 100 passengers ply Mwanza-Sirare/Isebania border route."

Dr Amoth added that there is also substantial human traffic between Tanzania and Kenya through informal land as well as maritime border crossing points along the southwestern border with northern Tanzania. 

"The epicentre of the outbreak is 611 kilometres to Kisumu and 1,079 kilometres to Nairobi by road," he said. 

WHO on Marburg spread

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Marburg and Ebola viruses are both members of the Filoviridae family. Though caused by different viruses, the two diseases are clinically similar. 

World Health Organization (WHO) logo outside a building of the WHO in Geneva,

World Health Organization (WHO) logo outside a building of the WHO in Geneva, Switzerland. PHOTO | REUTERS

"Marburg spreads through human-to-human transmission via direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials (e.g., bedding, clothing) contaminated with these fluids," WHO said on its website.

"Transmission via contaminated injection equipment or through needle-stick injuries is associated with more severe disease, rapid deterioration, and possibly a higher fatality rate. People remain infectious as long as their blood contains the virus,"​ WHO added.