Marburg virus disease: what is it, what are the symptoms and how much to worry about? | Infectious diseases

Two people have died in Ghana from Marburg virus, a highly contagious disease from the same family as Ebola for which no treatment yet exists.

This is the first declared outbreak of Marburg virus disease (MVD) in the country, and the second in West Africa after Guinea confirmed a case last year.

The source of the infection in Ghana is not yet known and the World Health Organization (WHO) is warning that the often fatal disease could pose a serious threat to public health. Here’s what you need to know.

How is the Marburg virus spread?

The virus is transmitted to humans by fruit bats and can then spread from human to human via bodily fluids, including on contaminated clothing or surfaces, according to the WHO.

The first outbreak was recorded in 1967 in Germany after staff working in a laboratory in the city of Marburg were infected with the disease in monkeys brought from Uganda for studies. Since then, outbreaks have mainly been detected in eastern and southern Africa.

What are the symptoms?

In its early stages, after an incubation period of between two and 21 days, patients may experience headaches, muscle aches, fever and chills. The virus can then cause bleeding, organ failure, weight loss, jaundice, delirium and inflammation of the pancreas, according to the WHO. Fatal cases usually present with some form of bleeding, often from multiple parts of the body.

Since early symptoms are similar to many other tropical febrile illnesses such as Ebola, malaria and typhoid, the WHO says it can be difficult to identify.

The average mortality rate for MVD is 50%. At its lowest, the death rate was 24% during the first recorded epidemic in Germany. However, the mortality rate reached 88% in Angola during a 2005 epidemic, resulting in 329 deaths.

According to Professor Oyewale Tomori, President of the Nigerian Academy of Sciences and virology expert, there is “a lot” we don’t yet know about MVD. This includes whether the infection can be caused by contact with bat droppings in caves.

What is the treatment for the virus?

According to the WHO, there are no approved vaccines or antiviral treatments to treat MVD. However, patients have a chance of survival if specific symptoms are treated and supportive care is provided such as rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids.

A range of treatments are being evaluated, including blood products, immune therapies and drug therapies.

Where was it detected?

No cases of MVD were detected outside of Africa during the last outbreak. The two people who died from the disease were in Ghana’s Ashanti region, the most populous part of the country.

The cases were not found to be epidemiologically linked, nor were they in contact with animals, sick people or attending social gatherings, the WHO said. More than 100 close contacts, including health workers and family members, have been identified, but no one has subsequently tested positive.

What measures have been taken to contain the epidemic?

Ghana’s Ministry of Health is coordinating a response with aid agencies, including stepping up virus surveillance and epidemiological investigations. A hospital in the Ashanti region has been designated to treat any additional suspected cases.

According to the WHO, Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso are also preparing for an epidemic.

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Marburg virus disease: what is it, what are the symptoms and how much to worry about? | Infectious diseases

Two people have died in Ghana from Marburg virus, a highly contagious disease from the same family as Ebola for which no treatment yet exists.

This is the first declared outbreak of Marburg virus disease (MVD) in the country, and the second in West Africa after Guinea confirmed a case last year.

The source of the infection in Ghana is not yet known and the World Health Organization (WHO) is warning that the often fatal disease could pose a serious threat to public health. Here’s what you need to know.

How is the Marburg virus spread?

The virus is transmitted to humans by fruit bats and can then spread from human to human via bodily fluids, including on contaminated clothing or surfaces, according to the WHO.

The first outbreak was recorded in 1967 in Germany after staff working in a laboratory in the city of Marburg were infected with the disease in monkeys brought from Uganda for studies. Since then, outbreaks have mainly been detected in eastern and southern Africa.

What are the symptoms?

In its early stages, after an incubation period of between two and 21 days, patients may experience headaches, muscle aches, fever and chills. The virus can then cause bleeding, organ failure, weight loss, jaundice, delirium and inflammation of the pancreas, according to the WHO. Fatal cases usually present with some form of bleeding, often from multiple parts of the body.

Since early symptoms are similar to many other tropical febrile illnesses such as Ebola, malaria and typhoid, the WHO says it can be difficult to identify.

The average mortality rate for MVD is 50%. At its lowest, the death rate was 24% during the first recorded epidemic in Germany. However, the mortality rate reached 88% in Angola during a 2005 epidemic, resulting in 329 deaths.

According to Professor Oyewale Tomori, President of the Nigerian Academy of Sciences and virology expert, there is “a lot” we don’t yet know about MVD. This includes whether the infection can be caused by contact with bat droppings in caves.

What is the treatment for the virus?

According to the WHO, there are no approved vaccines or antiviral treatments to treat MVD. However, patients have a chance of survival if specific symptoms are treated and supportive care is provided such as rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids.

A range of treatments are being evaluated, including blood products, immune therapies and drug therapies.

Where was it detected?

No cases of MVD were detected outside of Africa during the last outbreak. The two people who died from the disease were in Ghana’s Ashanti region, the most populous part of the country.

The cases were not found to be epidemiologically linked, nor were they in contact with animals, sick people or attending social gatherings, the WHO said. More than 100 close contacts, including health workers and family members, have been identified, but no one has subsequently tested positive.

What measures have been taken to contain the epidemic?

Ghana’s Ministry of Health is coordinating a response with aid agencies, including stepping up virus surveillance and epidemiological investigations. A hospital in the Ashanti region has been designated to treat any additional suspected cases.

According to the WHO, Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso are also preparing for an epidemic.

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