Kisumu and Nairobi could be hit hard by Marburg virus, say authorities

Ministry of Health officials

Ministry of Health officials in protective gear meant to combat disease outbreak. The government is on high alert following reported deaths related to the Marburg virus in Bukoba, Tanzania.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group.

Health officials in the Lake Region are on a high alert after Marburg Virus Disease killed five people in Bukoba, Kagera, Tanzania.

Eight other cases have been confirmed, with fears the number of those infected could be higher.

And the warning by the Ministry of Health Wednesday that Kisumu and Nairobi cities could be the epicentres of a Marburg outbreak makes it even scarier.

Bukoba town is the second largest port of Lake Victoria.

The town is served by Bukoba Airport and regular ferry connections to and from Mwanza that have connections with Kisumu.

There are buses that ply the route between Bukoba and Mwanza and some end up in Kisumu via the Sirare-Isebania border route, further exposing the country to the threat of the virus.

Kisumu County Director for Public Health Liliana Dayo told the Nation that health workers have been instructed to watch out for people with symptoms of the disease.

“We have informed our health workers about the disease. We will use the existing Covid-19 centres as our isolation centres should we have any cases,” said Ms Dayo.

How it spreads

Marburg spreads through human-to-human transmission. 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 like bedding and clothing contaminated with the fluids.

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. 

The incubation period varies from two to 21 days. Illness caused by Marburg virus begins abruptly, with high fever, severe headache and severe malaise. Muscle aches and pains are a common feature.

LREB Eminent Advisory Committee chairman Shem Otoi said surveillance and screening is ongoing at the Kenya-Tanzania border.

“Those with symptoms of the Marburg virus will be isolated for further investigation. It is a new infection; therefore, we will ensure all is done to prevent it,” said Prof Otoi.

Worse than Covid

Kenya Union of Clinical Officers (KUCO) chairman Peterson Wachira said this time around there is enough expertise to handle the Marburg Virus Disease.

“We have enough expertise owing to the pool of health workers who previously participated in the Ebola fight. All we need now is sensitisation and PPEs available. They just need to be organised, and capacity built,” said Mr Wachira.

He went on: “Marburg is worse than Covid-19 and thus the need to prepare adequately to stop it from importation and if imported, contain with first cases.”