The Marburg virus is carried by bats, monkeys, pigs, and other animals. It causes sudden fever, chills, headache, myalgia, and sore throat. They are also known to cause bleeding which may be internal or external – which is why they are called Viral Hemorrhagic fever (VHF). It is closely related to Lassa and Ebola which also cause Viral Hemorrhagic Fever. They also cause hypovolaemia, increased vascular permeability, and ultimately organ failure.
Health authorities in Ghana have officially confirmed two cases of the Marburg virus, a highly infectious disease similar to Ebola, after two people who later died tested positive for the virus earlier this month. A total of 98 people identified as contact cases are currently under quarantine, according to the Ghana Health Service. They however noted that no other cases of Marburg had yet been detected in the country.
Origins of the Marburg Virus
The Marburg virus was first identified after 31 people were infected and seven died in simultaneous outbreaks in 1967 in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany, and Belgrade, Serbia. In Africa, previous outbreaks have been reported in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, South Africa, and Uganda.
How the Marburg virus spreads
Marburg is transmitted to people from fruit bats, monkeys, and other infected animals and spreads among humans through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected people, surfaces, and materials, the WHO says.
What illness does it cause?
The virus begins abruptly with:
- A fever
- Severe headache
- Joint and muscle pains
This is often followed, about three days later, by:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Diarrhea (may be bloody)
- Red eyes
- Raised rash
- Chest pain and cough
- Sore throat
- Stomach pain
- Severe weight loss
- Bleeding, usually from the eyes, and when close to death, possible bleeding from the ears, nose, and rectum
- Internal bleeding
How deadly is the Marburg Virus?
According to WHO, death can happen between 8 and 9 days after onset, usually preceded by severe blood loss and shock. Fatality rates have varied from 24 to 88 percent in past outbreaks depending on the virus strain and case management.
The virus is also known to persist in some people who have recovered, and it can be found in the testicles and inside of the eye. In women who might have been infected while pregnant, the virus may persist in the placenta and fetus.
How can Marburg Virus be treated?
No effective treatments, prophylactic measures, therapies, or vaccines are approved to treat Marburg Virus Disease.
Symptoms and complications are treated as they appear. The following basic interventions, when used early, can significantly improve the chances of survival:
- Providing intravenous (IV) fluids and balancing electrolytes (body salts).
- Maintaining oxygen status and blood pressure.
- Treating other infections if they occur.
- Recovery from severe VHFs like Marburg depends on good supportive care and the patient’s immune response.
Secondary prevention requires total isolation of affected patients. Personal protective equipment must be worn and regularly checked. Meticulous infection control procedures are essential.
How can Marburg Virus be prevented?
- Avoid areas of known outbreaks.
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Avoid eating wild meats.
- Avoid contact with infected people.
- Follow infection-control procedures.
Does Nigeria stand a risk of the Marburg Virus?
There are no cases of Marburg virus disease reported in Nigeria at the moment. However, several measures are being put in place to prevent an outbreak of the disease in-country.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, has said the country is at moderate risk of the Marburg virus, despite our proximity to Ghana where the disease has been recently discovered.
Where can I test for Marburg Virus?
The NCDC has directed citizens to conduct tests for the virus at the National Reference Laboratory in Abuja and the University of Lagos Teaching Hospital Laboratory Centre for Human and Zoonotic Virology.
Need to test for Covid-19 and other tests at home? Click here.