Marburg Hemorrhagic Fever has killed more than 300 people in Angola, mainly through exposure to the deadly virus at home and at funerals, but the situation is improving, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday.
The United Nations agency said Angolan health officials had reported 337 cases since late last year, 311 of them fatal.
The outbreak was not yet contained but deaths were being prevented by better awareness, which had resulted in Angolans bringing patients to hospital early, said Aphaluck Bhatiasevi, WHO spokeswoman.
“The situation is improving. We are trying to strengthen our surveillance but the outbreak is not yet over,” Bhatiasevi said by telephone from Uige, the northern Angolan province that is the epicentre of the disease.
“In Uige there are patients being reported every day. We are getting information at an earlier phase instead of getting information when people have (already) died,” she said.
“Yesterday two more people were released from hospital. People are getting better because they are being brought into hospital earlier and being put under hospital care so we are seeing more survivors,” she added.
Angola’s Health Ministry was not available to comment on Thursday.
The vast majority of cases have been in Uige, which has borne the brunt of the world’s worst outbreak of the Ebola-like disease. “No cases have been reported outside Uige for the past five weeks,” the WHO said in a statement.
The statement said that despite better infection control at Uige hospital and collection of unsafe syringes in homes, new cases “continue to be linked to exposure in homes and at funerals, indicating that public understanding of the disease still needs to be improved”, it said.
Experts say many cases have been contracted by people caring for loved ones in the final stages of illness or through washing and kissing bodies after death in accordance with local custom.
The rare haemorrhagic fever is transmitted through bodily fluids including blood, sweat, saliva and tears. Most people usually die within days after massive bleeding.
The previous record death toll from Marburg was 123 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1998-2000.
Revision date: July 5, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD