Marburg Virus Disease Outbreak: Symptoms, Transmission, and More

Share on PinterestAfrican fruit bats are the main carriers of Marburg virus disease. Richard Packwood/Getty ImagesThe West African country of Ghana recently announced its first outbreak of Marburg virus disease (MVD). MVD, caused by the Marburg virus, often referred to as Ebola’s deadly cousin, currently has no cure and has an average mortality rate of 50%.Scientists are currently working on treatment options for this deadly disease.

Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the West African country of Ghana had announced its first outbreak of Marburg virus disease (MVD).

Ghana Health Services confirmed the rare Marburg virus disease in two unrelated men aged 26 and 51 who died in the southern Ashanti region of the country. The Pasteur Institute in Dakar, Senegal, also confirmed the disease results and corroborated them with the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research.

“The health authorities have responded quickly, anticipating the preparation for a possible outbreak,” says Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa in an official press release.

“This is good because, without immediate and decisive action, Marburg can easily spiral out of control. WHO is on the ground supporting health authorities and now that the outbreak has been declared, we are marshalling more resources for the response,” he said.

Marburg virus is an animal-borne virus that belongs to the Filoviridae viral family, the same family as the Ebola virus.

Scientists first discovered Marburg virus in 1967 when laboratory workers in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany, and Belgrade, Yugoslavia (present-day Serbia) showed signs of hemorrhagic fever followed by exposure to infected African monkeys.

Since then, there have been about 600 human cases of Marburg virus infection, including outbreaks in Angola and Uganda.

Marburg virus causes Marburg virus disease (MVD). The main carrier of Marburg virus is the African fruit bat. A person can become infected through prolonged exposure to infected bats in caves or mines, as well as through contact with bodily fluids or feces from an infected animal.

Once a person contracts Marburg virus, it can spread between humans through contact with a person’s body fluids, such as blood, saliva, sweat, semen, vomit, amniotic fluid, and breast milk. Infection can occur through direct contact with a person’s bodily fluids, as well as if the fluids are on a surface or material, such as clothing or bedding.

Those who come into close contact with a person’s bodily fluids, such as healthcare workers, are at increased risk of contracting MVD from infected patients.

Those who care for sick family members can be exposed to MVD, as can those who work in funeral services, since a person who dies from MVD remains infectious after death.

Marburg virus can also infect nonhuman primates, such as monkeys and gorillas.

According to Dr. Jonathan Towner, director of the Virus Host Ecology Section in the Viral Special Pathogens Branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), historically, people most at risk for MVD include family members and hospital staff caring for patients with Marburg virus who have not used appropriate infection prevention and control measures.

“Certain occupations, such as veterinarians and workers in laboratories or quarantine facilities handling non-human primates from Africa, may also be at higher risk of exposure to Marburg virus,” he told MNT. “The risk of exposure may be higher for those travelers visiting endemic regions of Africa who have contact or come in close proximity to Egyptian bats present in caves or mines where these bats usually live.”

The incubation period for Marburg virus infections can last between two and 21 days before symptoms appear. Symptoms of MVD include:

fever and/or chills headache muscle aches and pains nausea and/or vomiting sore throat diarrhea

MVD mortality rates range from 24% to 88%, depending on virus strains and management, with a median MVD mortality rate of about 50%.

There is currently no specific treatment for MVD.

At this time, health professionals treat the different symptoms of MVD as they arise. And if hospitalized, doctors treat MVD patients with supportive therapies, such as rehydration and replacement of blood loss from bleeding-related symptoms.

There are some potential drugs for MVD currently under investigation. A 2018 study showed successful treatment of MVB in a mouse model using the antiviral drug Favipiravir.

More recently, a May 2022 report found that a rVSV-based vaccine candidate provided protection against MVD in a guinea pig model.

Dr. Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, director general of the Ghana Health Service, stated in an official statement issued earlier this month that the risk of transmission from bats to humans can be reduced by staying away from caves and mines with large bat populations. Also, he said, any animal product must be thoroughly cooked before eating.

“Avoid prolonged exposure to mines or caves inhabited by colonies of fruit bats,” he explained to MNT. “Avoid direct or close contact with infected patients, particularly with their bodily fluids. (And) cook all animal products (blood and meat) thoroughly before consumption.”

“The risk to the US is very low, unless you are a tourist with a recent history of visiting caves in Africa containing Egyptian rousette bats, the only known natural reservoir, or have been in direct physical contact with humans. or non-human primates suffering from Marburg virus disease,” added Dr. Towner.

“MVD is a very rare disease in people,” he continued. “However, when it does occur, it has the potential to spread to other people, especially healthcare personnel and family members caring for the patient. Raising awareness in communities and among health care providers about the clinical symptoms of MVD patients is critical. Better awareness may lead to stronger and earlier precautions against the spread of Marburg virus in both family members and healthcare providers.”