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Marburg Virus: What Is It and How to Prevent It?

An overview of what the Marburg virus is after two cases were reported in Ghana
An overview of what the Marburg virus is after two cases were reported in Ghana

Image source: Getty Images

As the world continues to feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, fears of another immense outbreak caused by the Marburg virus have been raised.

In Ghana, health authorities have confirmed two highly contagious Marburg virus cases after testing positive on July 10.

Simultaneously, 98 people identified as contact cases are currently under quarantine; So far, no other cases of Marburg virus have been detected in the country.

What is Marburg virus disease?

Marburg virus is a severe hemorrhagic fever linked to the deadly Ebola virus. It was first identified in 1967 when 31 people were infected, resulting in seven deaths during the outbreak.

The 1967 outbreak occurred in Germany and then-Yugoslavia after research was carried out on African green monkeys imported from Uganda.

Although the virus has been identified in monkeys, it has also been linked to other animals.

Marburg virus disease is also transmitted by people who have spent long periods in deep caves populated by bats.

The World Health Organization (WHO) explained that the virus “initially results from long exposure to mines or caves inhabited by Rousettus bat colonies.”

Previous outbreaks

The incident marks the first outbreak in Ghana, but other African countries have also had cases, including:

  • The Democratic Republic of Cong
  • Kenya
  • South Africa
  • Uganda
  • Zimbabwe

In 2005, an epidemic in Angola claimed 300 lives. Meanwhile, Europe has recorded just one death in the past four decades, while the United States has recorded one after returning from caving expeditions in Uganda.

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Previous outbreaks

  • 1967, Germany – 29 cases, seven deaths
  • 1998 – 2000, DR Congo – 154 cases, 128 deaths
  • 2005, Angola – 374,329 deaths
  • 2012, Uganda – 15 cases, four deaths
  • 2017, Uganda – 3 cases, three deaths

Marburg virus symptoms

Symptoms of the virus appear after an incubation period of two to twenty-one days and show the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Muscle cramps
  • Pains

The US Centers for Disease Control also noted that rashes might appear after symptoms begin, especially on the chest, back, and abdomen.

Other additional symptoms are:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Sore throat
  • Stomach pain

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The World Health Organization has also said that patients can develop severe bleeding manifestations within seven days while sharing these fatal cases.

Once the symptoms enter a severe phase, patients experience high fever and show confusion, irritability, and aggression.

In fatal cases, death can occur 8 to 9 days after the onset of symptoms, usually preceded by severe blood loss and shock.

Death rates have ranged from 24% to 88% in previous outbreaks, depending on virus strain and case management.

It should also be noted that the Marburg virus persists in some recovered people and can be found in the testicles and eyes.

The virus can persist in the placenta and fetus in infected pregnant women.

How does the virus spread?

While the Egyptian fruit bat, African green monkeys and pigs transmit the virus, humans can also transmit it through bodily fluids and contact with contaminated bedding.

Even after people have recovered, their blood or semen still has the potential to infect others months later.

How to treat the virus

The World Health Organization has announced that although there is no proven cure for the Marburg virus, there is supportive care and treatment for some symptoms.

Supportive care includes rehydration with oral and intravenous fluids.

Various treatments such as blood products, immunotherapies and drug therapies are currently being evaluated.

How to prevent infection

GAVI noted that “stringent infection control measures are needed” to keep people from coming into contact to prevent widespread infection.

People are advised not to eat or handle shrubs to avoid the spread of animals.

Raising awareness among communities and health professionals is also critical, as it can lead to better precautions.

The World Health Organization also recommends that male survivors practice safe sex and hygiene for 12 months until sperm is negative.

Healthcare professionals should also take extra precautions and wear appropriate gloves and personal protective equipment when caring for patients.

Finally, pig farms are recommended to take precautions to prevent sows from becoming infected through contact with fruit bats.

The UN agency has warned that they could potentially become amplifying hosts during outbreaks.


Things to know about the dreaded Marburg virus disease

What is the Marburg virus and how can it be avoided?

Opinions expressed by Portland News contributors are their own.