South Africa protects itself against Marburg virus

The Marburg virus has already killed 193 people since the outbreak began in northern Angola in October and now South Africa is taking precautions to prevent the spread of the Marburg virus into the country.

Although health officials believe the risk of the disease reaching South Africa a small one, health department spokesman Solly Mabotha says they cannot afford to underplay the severity of the disease and although not overly concerned at this stage they are taking the possible threat seriously.

Both public and private hospitals have been warned to look out for patients coming from high-risk areas in Angola and certain of its neighbouring countries.

Mr Mabotha says they must be aware and alert the Health Department because in the past private patients have come into South Africa and put health workers at risk.

Dr Lucille Blumberg of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa said the risks of importing Marburg into South Africa are small, but the country needs to be on the alert because although Marburg has not been reported in the capital of Angola there is a high flow of travel between Luanda and South Africa and cases which originated in or around Uige have been treated in various provinces.

Passengers who arrive at airports in South Africa from Angola will be asked about their travel history and whether they have been in contact with people recently hospitalised.

South Africa does not mean to treat every Angolan as a potential disease carrier but Mr Mabotha says they have to narrow the list down, and the process does appear to be working, because no cases of Marburg have been reported in South Africa.

Hospitals in all nine provinces of South Africa have been identified as isolation sites to deal with people suspected of carrying the virus.

Mr Mabotha says the best way to manage the disease is through isolation.

The South African National Defence Force has also been advised by the Health Department to screen South African soldiers serving in countries where a risk was present.

Marburg carriers do not start showing symptoms for at least four days - and sometimes as long as three weeks - after contracting the virus, which makes it possible for someone to enter another country without being aware they are carrying the virus.

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