A deadly virus has just been identified in Ghana: what you need to know about Marburg


After the coronavirus pandemic and rising cases of monkeypox, news of another virus can trigger nerves globally. The highly infectious Marburg virus was reported this week in Ghana, a West African country, according to the World Health Organization.

Two unrelated people have died after testing positive for Marburg in the southern Ashanti region of the country, the WHO announced on Sunday, confirming laboratory results from the Ghana Health Service. The highly infectious disease is similar to Ebola and has no vaccine.

The country’s health officials say they are working to isolate close contacts and mitigate the spread of the virus, and the WHO is gathering resources and sending specialists to the country.

“Health authorities reacted quickly, getting a head start in preparing for a possible outbreak. This is a good thing because without immediate and decisive action, Marburg can easily spiral out of control,” said WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti.

Death rates from the disease can reach nearly 90%, according to the WHO.

Here’s what we know about the virus:

What is the Marburg virus?

Marburg is a rare but highly contagious viral hemorrhagic fever and belongs to the same family as Ebola, a better-known virus that has plagued West Africa for years.

Marburg virus is a “zoonotic … genetically unique RNA virus of the filovirus family,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The six species of Ebola virus are the only other known members of the filovirus family.”

Mortality rates range from 24% to 88%, according to the WHO, depending on the virus strain and the quality of case management.

Marburg was likely transmitted to people by African fruit bats following prolonged exposure of people working in mines and caves that harbor colonies of Rousettus bats. It’s not an airborne disease.

Once a person is infected, the virus can spread easily between humans through direct contact with infected people’s bodily fluids such as blood, saliva, or urine, as well as on surfaces and materials. Relatives and healthcare workers remain the most vulnerable alongside patients, and bodies may remain infectious during burial.

The first cases of the virus were identified in Europe in 1967. Two large outbreaks in Marburg and Frankfurt in Germany, and in Belgrade, Serbia, led to initial recognition of the disease. At least seven deaths have been reported in this outbreak, with the first infected people exposed to African green monkeys imported from Uganda or their tissues during laboratory research, the CDC said.

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Where was Marburg detected?

The Ghana cases are only the second time Marburg has been detected in West Africa. The first reported case in the region occurred in Guinea last year. The virus can spread quickly. More than 90 contacts, including health workers and community members, are being followed in Ghana. The WHO said it had also reached out to high-risk neighboring countries to put them on alert.

Cases of Marburg have already been reported elsewhere in Africa, including Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The largest epidemic killed more than 200 people in Angola in 2005.

The virus is not known to have originated in other continents, such as North America, and the CDC says cases outside of Africa are “infrequent.” In 2008, however, a Dutch woman died of Marburg disease after visiting Uganda. An American tourist also contracted the disease after a trip to Uganda in 2008 but recovered. The two travelers had visited a well-known cave inhabited by fruit bats in a national park.

The disease begins “brutally”, according to the WHO, with high fever, violent headaches and malaise. Muscle aches and cramps are also common features.

In Ghana, the two unrelated people who died showed symptoms including diarrhoea, fever, nausea and vomiting. One case was a 26-year-old man who presented to hospital on June 26 and died a day later. The second was a 51-year-old man who went to hospital on June 28 and died the same day, the WHO said.

In fatal cases, death usually occurs eight to nine days after illness onset and is preceded by severe blood loss and hemorrhage, as well as multiple organ dysfunction.

The CDC also noted that around day five, a non-itchy rash on the chest, back, or stomach may occur. Clinical diagnosis of Marburg “can be difficult”, he says, with many symptoms similar to other infectious diseases such as malaria or typhoid fever.

There are no approved vaccines or antiviral treatments to treat Marburg virus.

However, supportive care can improve survival rates such as rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids, maintenance of oxygen levels, use of drug therapies, and treatment of specific symptoms as they develop. they arise. Some health experts say drugs similar to those used for Ebola could be effective.

Some “experimental treatments” for Marburg have been tested on animals but have never been tried on humans, the CDC said.

Virus samples taken from patients to be studied constitute an “extreme biohazard”, according to the WHO, and laboratory tests must be carried out under “maximum biocontainment conditions”.

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The WHO said this week it was supporting a “national joint investigation team” in Ghana and deploying its own experts to the country. It is also sending personal protective equipment, stepping up disease surveillance and contact tracing in response to the handful of cases.

More details will likely be shared at a WHO Africa online briefing scheduled for Thursday.

“It is worrying that the geographic scope of this viral infection appears to have spread. This is a very serious infection with a high fatality rate,” international public health expert and Professor Jimmy Whitworth of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told The Washington Post on Monday.

“It is important to try to understand how the virus entered the human population to cause this outbreak and stop any further cases. At present, the risk of the outbreak spreading outside the Ashanti Region of Ghana is very low,” he added.

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