In mid-February, Equatorial Guinea, a West African country, declared an outbreak of Marburg virus disease, resulting in at least nine laboratory-confirmed cases, seven of which were fatal, and 20 probable cases of deceased individuals. Tanzania, located in East Africa, has now confirmed its first-ever case of the fatal disease, with health officials investigating a total of eight cases, five of which have resulted in death, and monitoring a total of 161 contacts. As viruses can spread globally through human transmission, the Marburg virus outbreak is a reminder that we are all one community.
The Marburg virus disease, like Ebola, is caused by a severe hemorrhagic fever that affects multiple organ systems, causes profuse bleeding, and impacts both humans and nonhuman primates. It is a zoonotic disease, transmitted from animals to humans, with fruit bats identified as the hosts. With case fatality rates ranging from 24% to 88%, with an average of 50%, the disease is highly contagious and extremely deadly.
Symptoms include sudden onset of high fever, headache, muscle aches, malaise, abdominal pain, and cramping with heavy watery diarrhea. Patients may bleed from multiple orifices, including externally from the nose, gums, and eyes, and internally from blood in vomit, urine, and stool, which can cause shock and death. The incubation period is as short as two days to as long as three weeks, with death occurring between eight and nine days after initial symptoms.
The Marburg virus is spread via direct person-to-person contact, including contact with bodily fluids or contaminated objects. Those most at risk are people in direct contact with infected individuals, including family members, caregivers, and healthcare workers. There is no vaccine for Marburg, and no specific antiviral treatment. Infected patients are treated with symptomatic and supportive therapies.
At this time, cases of the Marburg virus disease have only been found in Equatorial Guinea and Tanzania, with efforts underway to contain these outbreaks. While healthcare workers in these regions should be on high alert, there is no need for most of the world to worry about the danger of Marburg infection. However, the Marburg virus is a reminder of the many zoonotic pathogens that can cause severe harm to human health.
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