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Marburg virus: what it is, how it is transmitted and how to stop the infectious disease reappearing in Africa
The virus is transmitted to people by fruit bats.

The World Health Organization has confirmed the first-ever outbreak of Marburg disease in Equatorial Guinea. WHO has informed that due to this virus related to Ebola, there have been 9 deaths in the country so far. The health agency confirmed the outbreak when samples from Equatorial Guinea were sent to a lab in Senegal.

WHO also said that at present there are 9 deaths and 16 suspected cases due to this virus, in which symptoms like fever, weakness, diarrhea, and vomiting are visible. Marburg is a highly contagious virus. Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said, “Thanks to the swift and decisive action by Equatorial Guinean authorities in confirming the disease, the emergency response is being stepped up so we can save lives and stop the spread of the virus.” can be stopped as soon as possible.”

Alarm bells have rung due to another virus in Africa.

Two people have died in Ghana and 98 others have been isolated from the Marburg virus, raising fears of a large-scale outbreak of the highly contagious disease.

Infection causes fever, muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and, in many cases, death from extreme blood loss.

At BBC Mundo we take you through the disease in detail and explain why it is a cause for concern for the health authorities.


What is Marburg virus?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Marburg virus, a cousin of the equally deadly Ebola virus, was first identified after infecting 31 people and killing seven in a simultaneous outbreak in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany, and Belgrade in 1967. It happened later. Serbia. 

The outbreak was attributed to monkeys imported from Uganda.

But the virus has since been linked to other animals.

And, among humans, it is mainly spread by people who have spent long periods in caves and mines populated by bats.

But in Europe, only one person has died in the past 40 years, and another in the US after returning from cave expeditions in Uganda.

What have been the main outbreaks?

This is Ghana’s first outbreak, but cases have been reported in several African countries, including:

  •       Democratic Republic of the Congo
  •       Kenya
  •       South Africa
  •       Uganda
  •       Zimbabwe

A 2005 outbreak in Angola killed more than 300 people.

According to the World Health Organization, apart from the first known outbreak in Europe, the main outbreaks of the disease have been reported in Africa and are:

  •       2017, Uganda: three infections, three deaths
  •       2012, Uganda: 15 sick, 4 dead
  •       2005, Angola: 374 cases, 329 deaths
  •       1998–2000, Congo: 154 cases, 128 deaths
  •       1967, Germany: 29 cases, seven deaths

What are the symptoms?

The virus starts suddenly:

  •       Fever
  •       severe headache
  •       muscle pain

Three days after this, it is often followed by:

  •       watery diarrhea
  •       Abdominal pain
  •       nausea
  •       vomit

The WHO says, “The appearance of patients in this stage is described as having ‘ghost-like’ features, sunken eyes, expressionless faces, and extreme lethargy.”


Many continue to bleed from various parts of the body and die from extreme blood loss and shock eight to nine days after first becoming ill.

The WHO says that on average, the virus kills about half of those infected, but the most harmful strains have killed in 88% of cases.
How does it spread?

The Egyptian fruit bat (Russetus aegyptiacus) is believed to be one of the main transmitting agents of the virus.

African green monkeys and pigs can also carry it.

In humans, it is spread through bodily fluids and bedding contaminated with them.

And even if people recover, for example, their blood or semen can infect others for many months afterward.
How can it be treated?

There is no vaccine or specific treatment for the virus.

But the World Health Organization says a range of blood products, drugs, and immune therapies are being developed.

How can it be contained?

Gavi, an international organization promoting access to vaccines, says people in Africa should avoid eating or handling bushmeat.

The WHO says they should avoid contact with pigs in areas with outbreaks.

Men who have had the virus should use condoms for one year after the onset of symptoms or until their semen tests negative twice.

And people doing burials who have died from the virus should avoid touching the body.

In early July, two cases of Marburg virus disease, a disease almost as deadly as Ebola, were reported in Ghana.

According to the WHO, although Marburg and Ebola are caused by two different viruses, the two diseases are clinically similar. Both are rare and have the potential to cause outbreaks with high mortality rates.

Infection occurs with prolonged exposure to bat colonies in mines or caves.

Transmission is person-to-person and occurs as a result of direct contact with the blood, secretions, organs, or bodily fluids of infected individuals, or with surfaces and materials (eg, bedding or clothing) contaminated with these fluids.

The period between infection and the appearance of the first symptoms ranges from 2 to 21 days.

Symptoms include high fever, severe headache, and the risk of fainting. Aches and pains are common. On the third day, abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting may appear. Diarrhea can last for a week.

Between the fifth and seventh day, many patients may experience severe bleeding in the vomit, stool, or regular nosebleeds.

The average case fatality rate is about 50% and varies between 24 and 88%. Currently, there is no approved treatment that can cure the virus. However, it is possible to improve patient survival through treatments such as oral or intravenous rehydration. Several treatments are currently being developed.
status in ghana

An outbreak of Marburg fever has been detected in Ghana, while West Africa has been case-free in 2021 except for one case in Guinea. Currently, 98 people are considered to be contact cases and are in isolation. So far no cases of Marburg fever have been reported in contact cases.

So far, two unrelated men have been diagnosed with Marburg fever. Two men, aged 26 and 51, have died, with symptoms including diarrhea, fever, nausea, and vomiting.
WHO Actions

WHO works to prevent outbreaks of Marburg virus disease by maintaining disease surveillance and helping at-risk countries to develop emergency plans.

When outbreaks are detected, WHO acts by supporting surveillance, community mobilization, case management, laboratory testing, contact tracing, infection control, logistics, and training, and helps ensure safe burials.

A team of WHO experts have been sent to Ghana to support the local health authorities. Experts are coordinating and evaluating the risks and preventive measures to be taken.

WHO has also published detailed guidance on the prevention and control of Marburg virus disease.


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