Marburg virus: What is the deadly infectious disease and should we be worried?

Ghana has announced its first two deaths from the deadly infectious disease Marburg virus. What is it?

Health officials in Ghana have announced that two people have died from the deadly infectious disease, Marburg virus. A further 98 people are now under quarantine as suspected contact cases in the West African nation, sparking fears there could be a mass outbreak. What is Marburg virus disease (MVD) and should we be worried?

What is Marburg virus?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), MVD is a highly infectious disease that causes haemorrhagic fever, with a fatality ratio of up to 88%. It belongs to the same family as the Ebola virus.

People can initially be infected by MVD from prolonged exposure to mines or caves inhabited by bat colonies, according to the WHO. MVD can then spread via human-to-human transmission through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials contaminated with these fluids.

What are the symptoms?

According to the WHO, 'illness caused by Marburg virus begins abruptly, with high fever, severe headache and severe malaise. Muscle aches and pains are a common feature.'

On the third day, severe watery diarrhoea, abdominal pain and cramping, nausea, and vomiting can start. The organisation states that:

The appearance of patients at this phase has been described as showing 'ghost-like' drawn features, deep-set eyes, expressionless faces and extreme lethargy.

Within one week, lots of patients develop severe haemorrhagic manifestations, and fatal cases often experience bleeding from multiple parts of the body.

How is it prevented and treated?

There is currently no vaccine or proven treatment for MVD. However, supportive care, such as rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids, and treatment of specific symptoms increases a patient’s chances of survival.

Should we be worried?

As Bloombergwrites, 'the latest deaths show once again how a pathogen found in fruit bats can cross the species barrier to infect humans and risk touching off a deadly scourge.' Indeed, WHO has warned that 'without immediate and decisive action, Marburg can easily get out of hand.'

Most cases and outbreaks of MVD in the past have occurred in Africa. According to the BBC, only one person has died from the virus in Europe in the last 40 years, and one in the US, after returning from cave expeditions in Uganda. As per GOV.UK, recorded cases of MVD are rare.

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