The Marburg Virus is a type of viral hemorrhagic fever in humans that is severe and can cause death. Viral hemorrhagic fevers are illnesses that affect the body’s ability to clot. T Marburg causes a plethora of severe and eventually deadly symptoms. The virus is rare, having only a handful of cases being reported. The Marburg virus belongs to same family of viruses as Ebola, Filoviridae family. Marburg uses RNA as as its genetic material and is an animal borne virus.
When it was discovered:
The first major outbreak of the Marburg virus recorded was in 1967. Outbreaks occurred at the same time in Marburg, where the virus got its name, and in Frankfurt, Germany. There was also an outbreak in Belgrade, Serbia. These three outbreaks affected 31 people and 7 died. The first people to be affected were laboratory workers that came into contact with African green monkeys, which were being used to study polio vaccines, that had the virus. The discovery of the Marburg led to the creation of the Filoviridae family .
Where it comes from and how it is transmitted:
The virus is native to Africa, specifically to Kenya, Zimbabwe and Uganda. It is believed that fruit bats are the original hosts. The Rousettus aegyptiacus, more commonly the Egyptian fruit bat, has been found to carry the Marburg virus. Exactly how the virus is first transmitted from it’s animal host to a human is not yet clear. However, the virus is highly contagious. It can be passed from human to human in a few common ways. It has been transferred because of being in close proximity to infected people, like a hospital or sharing the same home. Also direct contact with bodily fluids, or contaminated surfaces and materials, are also sources of disease.
The incubation and symptoms:
The incubation time varies from 2 to 21 days, with many patients developing symptoms between 5 and 7 days. Like Ebola the virus has a sudden onset. It begins with a high fever, severe headache and a general feeling of sickness. Muscle fatigue and pain is a very common feature as well. By the third day, vomiting, watery diarrhea and abdominal pain can begin and persist for a week. Patients will be incredibly lethargic and appear “ghost-like.” Rashes have also been a reported symptom in previous patients. In fatal cases, hemorrhaging becomes persistent. This bleeding can manifest in different ways. It will commonly start with the nose and gums, and be present in vomit and feces. Eventually, an infected person will bleed from every orifice. Bleeding at the site of IV injections is especially difficult when trying to treat a patient. In late stages of the disease a patient can become aggressive, confused and irritable, due to the toll the virus takes on the central nervous system. Jaundice, multi-organ dysfunction and liver failure also occur as the disease becomes more severe. According to the World Health Organization, patients die from extreme loss of blood and shock within 8 to 9 days of showing symptoms.
Marburg virus disease is fatal. On average, the fatality rate is 50% for the disease. Although in previous cases the rates have varied from 23% to 88%. The rate of fatality for the Marburg virus can depend on factors like the strain of the disease present and the way each case is controlled.
Diagnosing the disease can be tricky because the symptoms are similar to those of typhoid fever and malaria. Complex laboratory test are used to confirm that a patient is infected with the Marburg virus.
There isn’t a cure for the disease. Much like Ebola, treatment is mainly that of supportive care. Through IV’s a patient’s fluids are maintained, lost blood is replaced and treatment for specific complications, like infection, is administered. In some cases, plasma has been transfused to aid with blood clotting.
Experimental treatments have been tested in animals, including drug therapies, immune therapies and blood medicines.
Since the first reported outbreak in 1967 there have been 10 more outbreaks. The deadliest case occurred in Angola in 2005. Out of 252 affected people, 227 died. This also made the Angolan outbreak the largest to date.
The most recent case was in Uganda in 2017, killing 3 people of the same family. No other cases were found during this outbreak.
Because there is no vaccine for the disease and no cure, prevention and outbreak control is key to stopping further outbreaks. Since many of the cases were linked to caves and mines inhabited by fruit bats, the risk of human-to-bat contact should be reduced. Anyone who is working in, researching or touring mines or caves with fruit bat colonies in them should wear protective gear. The spread of the disease between humans is controlled by reducing close contact with infected individuals or materials. Containment of outbreaks includes placing the sick in quarantine, identifying people that the sick may have come in contact with and monitoring them for 21, and properly and promptly burying the dead. All of these practices have been observed by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as individual country’s health administrations and government.
Marburg virus disease is deadly, contagious and rare. While there are no cures or vaccines for it health organizations and researchers around the world are doing their best to spread awareness and keep the disease from becoming an epidemic.