The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday that Angola’s Marburg Fever outbreak was not over yet as the death toll from the disease climbed.
“We’ve seen new cases in new municipalities that don’t have obvious links to earlier cases of Marburg. We are very concerned about the situation,” WHO spokesperson Aphaluck Bhatiasevi told Reuters by phone from northern Uige province, the epicentre of the pandemic.
“We are trying to do as much tracing as possible. But some of the cases we have seen in the last 10 days don’t have a clear link to previous cases,” she said. “The outbreak is not over.”
The death toll in the worst-recorded pandemic from the rare haemorrhagic fever has risen over the past 10 days to 292 - out of the 336 known cases - from 277, officials said.
Overcoming cultural barriers remains the biggest obstacle in the battle to contain the Ebola-like disease, Deputy Health Minister Jose Van Dunem said.
“We’re working hard on social mobilisation in communities in Uige, trying to motivate a change of behaviour,” Van Dunem told Reuters.
“We have some cultural problems. People think if they don’t bathe the dead body then they are not properly putting them to rest,” he said in an interview.
The fever is spread by bodily fluids like blood, saliva, tears and sweat. There is no cure.
Experts say protection is essential when dealing with corpses. Bodily fluid secretions increase after death, meaning the corpses of Marburg victims are highly contagious.
Some six traditional healers were among the dead, Van Dunem said. But others had started changing their behaviour in order to protect themselves.
“We are reaching the people in the communities more than before. But it is very challenging because they have a strong culture,” he said.
Van Dunem said two Marburg patients currently being cared for in the isolation unit in Uige hospital could be among the few people known to have survived the disease.
“We’ve had the two cases there for a week and we’re hopeful they’re not going to die,” he said.
A total of 123 people died in a Marburg epidemic in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo in 1998-2000.
Revision date: July 7, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD