What is Marburg virus? The WHO has declared an outbreak in Ghana after two people died

In late June, two unrelated people – a 26-year-old and a 51-year-old man in Ghana – died in hospital from the deadly virus.

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In June, two people died in Ghana after testing positive for Marburg virus disease – now the World Health Organization (WHO) is declaring it the first outbreak in the West African country.

“Marburg is a highly contagious viral hemorrhagic fever in the same family as the well-known Ebola virus disease,” says the WHO.

Up to 88 percent of those infected with this disease can die. For example, the incubation period of two to 14 days with COVID-19 is two to 21 days. It can be spread from person to person through direct contact with the blood or body fluids of an infected person. It can also be spread through contaminated materials such as clothing.

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Its symptoms include high fever and severe headache, while muscle aches and pains are also common. On the third day of infection, severe vomiting, stomach pain, nausea and may begin. Patients may appear “ghost-like” and be extremely lethargic, the WHO said. In fatal cases, the patient bleeds from several places, including the nose and teeth.

There is currently no cure for Marburg virus, but its symptoms can be treated.

In late June, two unrelated people – a 26-year-old man and a 51-year-old man from Ghana – died in hospital after suffering from diarrhoea, fever, nausea and vomiting. More than 90 people in contact with them are being monitored.

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The discovery of the disease resulted from two simultaneous outbreaks in 1967: one in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany, and the other in Belgrade, Serbia. The disease can be traced back to a laboratory working with African green monkeys imported from Uganda.

“In 2008, two independent cases of travelers visiting a cave with colonies of Russettus bats in Uganda were reported,” the WHO says, adding that prolonged exposure to mines or caves with colonies of these bats can lead to human infection.

Cases and outbreaks of Marburg virus have been reported in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda, which are linked to Zimbabwe.

Dr. Mark Katz, a member of the World Health Organization (WHO), taking an oral sample from Feliciana, a patient suspected of having Marburg hemorrhagic fever, in Kinguangua, near Ui.  Feliciana's grandmother, sister and ex-husband died of Marburg hemorrhagic fever.  The young woman tested negative after being taken to Uighe Regional Hospital for observation.
Dr. Mark Katz, a member of the World Health Organization (WHO), taking an oral sample from Feliciana, a patient suspected of having Marburg hemorrhagic fever, in Kinguangua, near Ui. Feliciana’s grandmother, sister and ex-husband died of Marburg hemorrhagic fever. The young woman tested negative after being taken to Uighe Regional Hospital for observation. Photo by CHRISTOPHER BLACK/AFP/Getty Images

In 2021, an epidemic was declared in Guinea and lasted five weeks after a single case of the virus.

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Of the 590 people who have contracted the disease since 1967, 478 have died, according to WHO’s major outbreak data, excluding the most recent deaths in June.

Regarding the further spread of the disease, Dr. WHO regional director for Africa. Matshidiso Moeti said the response was swift.

“WHO is supporting health authorities and now that the outbreak has been declared, we are mobilizing more resources to respond,” he said in a statement.

To avoid contracting the virus, the Disease Control Unit of the Ghana Health Service recommends not eating bushmeat, washing hands with soap, and not handling dead bodies of people with Marburg virus.

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