/ 11 July 2008

Warning about Uganda’s caves after Marburg death

The World Health Organisation (WHO) urged Ugandans and tourists on Friday to avoid entering caves with bats in the Central African country after a Dutch woman died of Marburg haemorrhagic fever.

The unidentified 40-year-old woman died overnight in Leiden University Medical Centre, Dutch authorities said.

Health experts fear bats in caves and mines in western Uganda are a reservoir for the Marburg virus, a cousin of Ebola. Marburg haemorrhagic fever is a severe and highly fatal disease whose victims often bleed from multiple sites.

People who were in close contact with the victim, who visited two caves during a three-week trip to Uganda that ended on June 28, have been monitored daily but none has shown any symptoms, WHO spokesperson Gregory Hartl said.

”It is an isolated case of imported Marburg. People should not think about amending their travel plans to Uganda but should not go into caves with bats,” he said.

In a statement, Uganda’s Health Ministry advised people entering caves or mines in the western district of Kamwenge to take ”maximum precaution not to get into close contact with the bats and non-human primates in the nearby forests”.

Kitaka mine in Kamwenge, about 250km from the capital, Kampala, was closed in August 2007 after an outbreak of the disease struck three gold miners, killing one.

There is no vaccine or specific treatment for the contagious disease, spread through contact with blood, semen or other bodily fluids. At least 150 people died in an epidemic in Angola in 2004 and 2005, which followed an outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo that cost 128 lives between 1998 and 2000, according to the WHO.

The Dutch woman was believed to have had direct contact with a fruit bat in the cave in the Maramagambo forest, a popular tourist attraction between Queen Elizabeth Park and Kabale, but also visited another cave at Fort Portal, the WHO said.

”Marburg virus infection has been demonstrated by laboratory tests,” the United Nations agency said in a statement.

The woman suffered fever and chills four days after her return home and was admitted to Leiden hospital on July 2.

A local tour guide was the only other person on her cave visits, and Dutch authorities have alerted the tour operator, the WHO said.

”No measures were taken with respect to the passengers on the flight from Uganda as the flight occurred four days before the onset of symptoms in the patient,” it said. — Reuters