As the world continues to feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, fears of another significant epidemic have been brought up surrounding the Marburg virus.
In Ghana, health authorities have confirmed two cases of the highly contagious Marburg virus (and later dying) after testing positive on July 10.
At the same time, 98 people identified as contact cases are currently in quarantine.
So far, no other cases of Marburg virus have been detected in the country.
What is the Marburg virus?
Marburg virus is a severe hemorrhagic fever associated with the deadly Ebola virus. It was first identified in 1967 when 31 people were infected and later led to seven deaths during the outbreak.
The 1967 outbreak occurred in Germany and what was then Yugoslavia after research was conducted on African green monkeys imported from Uganda.
Although the virus was identified in monkeys, it has also been linked to other animals.
Marburg virus disease is also transmitted by people who have spent long periods in deep caves populated by bats.
The World Health Organization (WHO) explained that the virus “initially results from prolonged exposure to mines or caves inhabited by colonies of Rousettus bats.”
The incident marks the first outbreak in Ghana, but other African countries have also had cases, including:
- The Democratic Republic of the Congo
- South Africa
In 2005, an epidemic in Angola claimed 300 lives.
Meanwhile, Europe has only recorded one death in the past four decades, while the United States has recorded one after returning from cave expeditions to Uganda.
1967, Germany – 29 cases, seven deaths
1998 – 2000, the Democratic Republic of the Congo – 154 cases, 128 deaths
2005, Angola – 374,329 deaths
2012, Uganda – 15 cases, four deaths
2017, Uganda – 3 cases, three deaths
Symptoms of the Marburg virus
Symptoms of the virus appear after an incubation period of two to twenty-one days and show the following symptoms:
- Muscle cramps
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control also noted that a rash could appear after the symptoms set in, especially on the chest, back, and abdomen.
Other additional symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- Sore throat
- Stomach ache
The World Health Organization also said patients could develop severe hemorrhagic manifestations within seven days while sharing these fatal cases.
Once symptoms enter a severe stage, patients experience a high fever and show confusion, irritability, and aggression.
In fatal cases, death can occur 8 to 9 days after the onset of symptoms, usually preceded by severe blood loss and shock.
Death rates have ranged from 24% to 88% in previous outbreaks, depending on virus strain and case management.
It should also be noted that the Marburg virus persists in some recovered people and can be detected in the testicles and eyes.
The virus can persist in the placenta and fetus of infected pregnant women.
How the virus spreads
While Egyptian fruit bats, African green monkeys and pigs transmit the virus, humans can also transmit it through bodily fluids and contact with contaminated bedding.
Even after people recover, their blood or semen can infect others months later.
How to treat the virus
The World Health Organization has announced that although there is no proven cure for the Marburg virus, there is supportive care and treatment for some symptoms.
Supportive care includes oral and intravenous fluid rehydration.
Various treatments such as blood products, immunotherapies and drug therapies are currently being evaluated.
How to prevent infection
GAVI noted that “strict infection control measures are needed” to prevent people from coming into contact to prevent widespread infection.
People are advised not to eat or handle shrubs to avoid the spread of animals.
Raising awareness among communities and health professionals is also critical, as it can lead to better precautions among people.
The World Health Organization also recommends that male survivors practice safe sex and hygiene for 12 months until sperm is negative.
Healthcare professionals should also take extra precautions and wear appropriate gloves and personal protective equipment when caring for patients.
Finally, pig farms are advised to take precautions to prevent sows from becoming infected through contact with fruit bats.
The UN agency has warned that they could potentially become a fortifying host during outbreaks.