Uganda is struggling to contain the spread of the deadly Marburg virus, just weeks after an outbreak of Ebola killed at least 16 people.
Last week, health officials declared an outbreak of the rare and deadly Marburg virus, a type of hemorrhagic fever similar to Ebola. Five people have died so far, six have been placed in isolation and over 150 more are being monitored for symptoms. One of the cases is being treated in the capital, Kampala.
The outbreak comes just two weeks after Uganda was declared free of Ebola earlier this month. At least 16 people died of Ebola, a virus which in the past has killed hundreds.
The cases of Marburg have all come from the southwestern district of Kabale, a heavily forested area where the vectors for the disease, monkeys and bats, are most commonly found.
Ministry of Health spokesperson Rukia Nakamatte says the medical team working to contain the outbreak has considerable experience handling such diseases, which have been recurring in Uganda for decades.
“There is a team of experts that is in Kabale district. These are experts that have handled the previous outbreaks, like the Ebola we had in Gulu in 2000. Most of these people are trained in handling patients of Ebola and Marburg," she said.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, this is the first outbreak of Marburg in Uganda since 2008, when a Dutch tourist died after visiting a cave filled with bats. But in terms of the number of fatalities, the current outbreak is the most severe in Uganda since the first reported cases in the 1960s.
The Marburg virus kills around 80 percent of those infected. It is highly contagious, and is spread through contact with bodily fluids. Symptoms of the virus include fever and headache, followed by a skin rash and, eventually, severe hemorrhaging.
Because Marburg is so contagious, local authorities in Kabale district have banned public gatherings, including school graduation ceremonies. But Nakamatte says the Ministry’s advice is less extreme, calling on the public merely to exercise caution.
“We are not banning public gatherings, but we are calling them to minimize unnecessary gatherings," she said.
Ugandan health authorities have formed a national task force to deal with the outbreak that includes the CDC and the World Health Organization.