The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sending personnel to Africa to help stop outbreaks of Marburg virus disease and is urging travelers to certain countries to take precautions. The CDC is also taking steps to keep infections from spreading to the United States.
Equatorial Guinea and Tanzania are facing their first known outbreaks of Marburg virus, a viral fever with uncontrolled bleeding that’s a close cousin to Ebola. This week, the CDC urged travelers to both countries to avoid contact with sick people and to watch for symptoms for three weeks after leaving the area. Travelers to Equatorial Guinea should take enhanced precautions and avoid nonessential travel to the provinces where the outbreak is ongoing, the agency said.
In the United States, the agency will post notices in international airports where most travelers arrive, warning them to watch for symptoms of the virus for 21 days and to seek care immediately if they become ill. They will also get a text reminder to watch for symptoms.
The CDC is standing up a “center-led” emergency response; it’s not as all-encompassing as when the CDC stands up its Emergency Operations Center, such as for Covid-19 and mpox. But it will refocus the efforts and attention of the staff of its National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases to respond to the outbreaks, which are in two countries on opposite sides of Africa, indicating that the deadly hemorrhagic fever is spreading.
Equatorial Guinea, on the coast in West Africa, declared an outbreak of Marburg virus disease in mid-February with cases spread across multiple provinces. As of March 22, Equatorial Guinea had 13 confirmed cases, including nine people who have died and one who has recovered, according to the World Health Organization. Nine CDC staffers are on the ground there. They have established a field laboratory and are assisting with testing, case identification and contact tracing.
Tanzania, on the coast in East Africa, declared an outbreak of Marburg virus disease on March 21, with cases reported in two villages in the Kagera region, according to the CDC. As of March 22, Tanzania has had eight confirmed cases, including five deaths. The CDC has a permanent office in Tanzania that is assisting with the outbreak. It is sending additional staff to support those efforts.
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Marburg virus is a rare and deadly virus that causes fever, chills, muscle pain, rash, sore throat, diarrhea, weakness or unexplained bleeding or bruising. It is spread through contact with body fluids and contaminated surfaces. People can also catch it from infected animals. It is fatal in about half of cases who get it. Other countries in Africa have had to quell outbreaks before.
In its early stages, the infection is difficult to distinguish from other illnesses, so a history of travel to either of those countries will be essential to helping clinicians spot it.