Marburg Virus responsible for disease outbreak in Angola

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The World Health Organization (WHO) announced yesterday that laboratory tests have shown that the cause of a hemorrhagic fever outbreak in northern Angola is the Marburg virus.

A dramatic jump in the fatality count accompanied the news with 39 deaths reported during a two-month stretch that ended Mar 15, to 95 since October 2004, when the outbreak began. A total of 102 cases have been found to date. Most cases have been in the Uige province in northern Angola.

These figures makes this the second-largest Marburg outbreak recorded by WHO. An outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1998 to 2000 was larger, with 149 cases, including 123 deaths. Many of the victims were miners in the north-eastern part of the country.

Marburg, a rare disease was first identified in 1967 when illnesses broke out simultaneously among laboratory workers in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany, and Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

Those cases were linked to contact with infected African green monkeys or their tissues.Intensive investigations have failed to establish the animal reservoir for Marburg virus.The virus which can quickly kill has neither a vaccine nor a cure.

Most deaths in this outbreak have taken place 3 to 7 days after symptoms appeared; clinical features have included vomiting, bloody discharges, and high fever. 75% of the Marburg victims have been children younger than 5. Cases among adults include some healthcare workers. Close contact with the bodily fluids of infected people, during caregiving or burial, increases the risk of infection.

The outbreak is disproportionately affecting children, WHO said.The disease spreads from person to person and containment focuses on quickly finding and quarantining people who have had contact with Marburg victims.

A task force has been established in Angola, with the WHO country office supporting the national health ministry. The WHO Regional Office for Africa has alerted its rapid response network and plans to send supplies for investigation and management of the situation.

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