What is the Marburg virus? Another country reports outbreak of ‘highly virulent’ disease

Angolan health workers treat a 22-year-old woman with a suspected case of the Marburg haemorrhagic fever in 2005. (Photo by Florence Panoussian/AFP via Getty Images)

(NewsNation) – The African country of Tanzania reported its first-ever outbreak of Marburg disease, which has so far resulted in eight total cases and five deaths. The Ebola-related virus was also responsible for additional lab-confirmed illnesses stemming from a February outbreak in Equatorial Guinea, which has so far sickened nine patients, seven of which have died.

In a statement issued earlier this week, the World Health Organization has said an additional 161 people — all considered “contacts” of those sickened — were being monitored for symptoms.

“The efforts by Tanzania’s health authorities to establish the cause of the disease is a clear indication of the determination to effectively respond to the outbreak,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, was quoted as saying in a recent news release. “We are working with the government to rapidly scale up control measures to halt the spread of the virus and end the outbreak as soon as possible.”

The “highly virulent” Marburg disease, meanwhile, results in symptoms including fever (as well as hemorrhagic fever), fatigue, diarrhea and vomiting. It also has a fatality rate of 88%, according to the WHO.

What is the Marburg virus?

Like Ebola, the Marburg virus originates in bats and spreads between people via close contact with the bodily fluids of infected people, or surfaces like contaminated bedsheets.

The disease is a highly infectious viral hemorrhagic fever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is spawned by the animal-borne RNA virus of the same Filoviridae family as the Ebola virus. 

Without treatment, Marburg can be fatal in up to 88% of people, according to the WHO, depending on the virus strain and quality of case management.

According to the CDC, Marburg was probably first transmitted to people from African fruit bats as a result of prolonged exposure from people working in mines and caves that have Rousettus bat colonies.

The rare virus was first identified in 1967 after it caused simultaneous outbreaks of disease in laboratories in Marburg, Germany, and Belgrade, Serbia. Seven people died who were exposed to the virus while conducting research on monkeys.

What are the symptoms of the Marburg virus?

Symptoms, including high fever, severe headache, chills, and malaise, can begin to show up “abruptly,” according to the WHO. Other symptoms include nausea, jaundice, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Muscle aches and cramping are also common symptoms.

According to the CDC, a non-itchy rash may appear on the chest, back, or stomach around day five. Clinical diagnosis of Marburg “can be difficult,” the agency said, with many of the symptoms similar to other infectious diseases such as malaria, typhoid fever, and Ebola.

In fatal cases, death typically occurs between days eight and nine after symptoms of the disease appear, and is generally preceded by severe blood loss and hemorrhaging, as well as multi-organ dysfunction. (During “severe hemorrhagic manifestations,” patients may have blood in their vomit or feces, which is “often accompanied by bleeding from the nose, gums and vagina,” according to the WHO.

What is the treatment for the Marburg virus?

There are no authorized vaccines or drugs to treat Marburg, but rehydration treatment to alleviate symptoms can improve the chances of survival.

According to the CDC, supportive hospital therapy can improve survival rates, such as rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids, maintaining oxygen levels, using drug therapies and treating specific symptoms as they arise.

Some “experimental treatments” for Marburg have been tested in animals but not in humans, the CDC said.

Where have outbreaks been reported?

Outbreaks of Marburg disease have been reported over a dozen times since 1967, mainly in African countries, including South Africa, Kenya, Angola and Uganda, according to the WHO. Outbreaks have also been reported in Germany, Yugoslavia, Russia and the Netherlands, in addition to one 2018 case in the U.S., observed in a traveler who had recently returned from a trip to Uganda.


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