Tanzania identifies deadly outbreak of mystery disease as leptospirosis

LONDON — A deadly outbreak of an unknown disease in Tanzania has been identified as leptospirosis, health officials said.

More than 20 cases, including three deaths, have been reported in the southern Lindi region, with patients showing symptoms similar to Ebola or Marburg virus diseases — fever, headache, fatigue and bleeding, especially from the nose, according to health officials. Preliminary results from lab tests earlier this month had ruled out Ebola and Marburg viruses as well as COVID-19, making the disease a mystery until now.

Tanzanian Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu announced at a press conference on Monday that patient samples tested positive for leptospirosis, a contagious bacterial disease that affects both animals and humans.

“I would like to inform the public that sample testing of patients has confirmed that the outbreak is leptospirosis field fever or ‘homa ya Mgunda’ as it is known in Swahili,” Mwalimu said. “Until now, no other person among the contacts has shown symptoms of the disease.”

This undated stock photo shows a hospital in Tanzania.

STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

The first case of the previously unidentified disease was reported on July 5 at the Mbekenyera Health Center in the village of Mbekenyera in the Lindi region. Within three days, the hospital had received a second case, according to Tanzania’s chief physician, Dr. the public to “keep calm” and advised anyone experiencing similar symptoms to seek immediate medical attention.

Last week, Sichalwe said the Tanzanian Ministry of Health had sent a team of experts to the Lindi region to investigate the mysterious outbreak and take measures to prevent further spread, such as tracing contacts, identifying people with similar symptoms and taking measures to prevent further spread. isolating it. The World Health Organization teams in Tanzania also “monitored the situation closely” and worked with the Tanzanian Ministry of Health to carry out “further testing to rule out other diseases,” Dr. Fiona Braka, emergency response team leader at WHO’s regional office for Africa, told ABC News last Friday.

Leptospirosis is transmitted directly or indirectly from animals to humans, especially when humans come into contact with the urine of infected animals or a urine-contaminated environment. The bacterium enters the body through cuts or abrasions on the skin, or through the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose and eyes. Human-to-human transmission is rare, according to the WHO.

Leptospirosis is easily overlooked and relatively little is known about it, the WHO says. Cases occur worldwide, but are most common in tropical and subtropical regions with high rainfall. It is a potentially serious but treatable disease with symptoms that can resemble those of a number of unrelated infections, such as the flu, meningitis, hepatitis, dengue or viral hemorrhagic fevers, according to the WHO.

PHOTO: A health worker wearing protective clothing checks a patient isolated in a plastic cube at an Ebola treatment center in Beni, Congo, July 13, 2019.

A health worker wearing protective clothing checks a patient isolated in a plastic cube at an Ebola treatment center in Beni, Congo, July 13, 2019.

Jerome Delay/AP, FILE

Last Thursday, the WHO warned that Africa is at growing risk of outbreaks caused by zoonotic pathogens that originate in non-human animals and then change species and infect humans. According to a new analysis by the United Nations’ Global Health Branch, the number of zoonotic outbreaks in the region increased by 63% in the decade from 2012 to 2022, compared to 2001 to 2011.

The analysis found that 1,843 substantiated public health incidents were recorded in the WHO’s African region between 2001 and 2022, 30% of which were from outbreaks of zoonotic diseases. While these numbers have increased over the past two decades, the WHO noted, there was a particular peak in 2019 and 2020 when zoonotic pathogens accounted for about 50% of public health events. Ebola virus disease and other viral hemorrhagic fevers make up nearly 70% of these outbreaks, according to the analysis, while dengue, anthrax, plague, monkey pox and a range of other diseases make up the remaining 30%.

“Infections originating from animals and then spreading to humans have been around for centuries, but the risk of mass infections and deaths was relatively limited in Africa. Poor transport infrastructure acted as a natural barrier,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said in a statement on July 14. “However, with improved transport in Africa, there is an increased threat from zoonotic pathogens traveling to major urban centers. We must act now to contain zoonoses before they can cause widespread infections and stop Africa from becoming a hotspot for emerging infectious diseases.”

The WHO warned that there could be a devastating number of cases and deaths when zoonoses arrive in cities, as witnessed by several West African countries with the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak – the largest and deadliest on record.

“We need all hands on deck to prevent and control zoonotic diseases such as Ebola, monkeypox and even other coronaviruses,” Moeti added. “Zoonotic diseases are caused by spillover events from animals to humans. Only if we break down the walls between disciplines can we address all aspects of the response.”

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