The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday urged caution over a reported outbreak of viral haemorrhagic fever among Zimbabwean soldiers serving in the Democratic Republic of
Congo (DRC), warning the alleged cases had not been verified.
"As far as we are concerned this has not been confirmed," a senior WHO official in Harare told IRIN, responding to news reports that a Zimbabwean soldier serving in the DRC had died in a Harare hospital on Wednesday of suspected Marburg disease and that two colleagues were critically ill.
Zimbabwe's army medical directorate has reportedly been put on alert.
The WHO official said the results of clinical samples taken from the three men and sent to South Africa for testing are due back on Friday. "Until then, there should not be any concern. There is no reason to think that whoever comes from the Congo has Marburg."
Medical sources told IRIN that this was not the first time there has been a suspected disease outbreak among Zimbabwean soldiers in the DRC: "Most turned out to be malaria or AIDS-related."
A confirmed Marburg outbreak in the northeastern Watsa area of the DRC has so far notched up 90 suspected cases since January. But the geographical distance between Watsa and where Zimbabwean troops are based in the southeast, "virtually ruled out a connection," the sources added.
According to WHO, Marburg fever is caused by a virus closely related to Ebola. Little is known of its epidemiology.
Haemorrhagic fevers like Marburg do not cause major epidemics but are usually localised incidents.
Transmission to humans is frequently by the bite of an infected tick or mosquito, or via aerosol from infected rodent hosts.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions