First Case of Marburg Virus Disease in West Africa

Marburg Virus
Source: CDC

Health authorities in Guinea recently confirmed a case of the deadly Marburg virus disease, making it the first case in West Africa.

In 1967, two large outbreaks of hemorrhagic fever occurred simultaneously in Marburg and Frankfurt in Germany and in Belgrade, Serbia. Researchers tracked the outbreak to infected African green monkeys that were being used for the development of vaccines at three laboratories in separate locations. All infected patients were laboratory workers who had encountered fluid and cell cultures from the monkeys. The disease soon came to be known as Marburg virus disease. Since then, several other countries have reported outbreaks and cases of the disease.

Belonging to the same family as Ebola, Marburg virus disease is a hemorrhagic fever with a 90% fatality rate. Infected individuals typically present with a high-grade fever, severe headache, and malaise. On the third day, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and severe diarrhoea can develop. At this stage of the disease, people often have a ghost-like appearance with an expressionless face, deep-set eyes, and extreme lethargy. By the fifth or seventh day, the symptoms can progress to haemorrhage and people then start bleeding from the nose, gums, and vagina. As the central nervous system gets involved, confusion and aggression start to appear. In severe cases, death usually occurs between 8 and 9 days of symptom onset. There is currently no cure for the disease. However, symptomatic treatment and rehydration therapy help increase the chances of survival.

Researchers believe that fruit bats are responsible for transmitting the disease to humans. The human-to-human transmission then occurs from contact with infected body fluids and contaminated surfaces. Moreover, contact with the body of the deceased during burial processions can also cause transmission of the disease.

West Africa Reports its First Case

On Sunday, health officials in Guinea confirmed the detection of Marburg virus disease in the southern Gueckedou prefecture. According to authorities, samples from the now-deceased patient revealed the presence of the virus. Although cases have occurred in other parts of Africa before, this is the first case in West Africa. 

The patient, a male started having symptoms on July 25th. His symptoms included fever, headache, abdominal pain, fatigue, and bleeding from the gums. He underwent treatment at a local clinic in Koundou area of Gueckedou. Unfortunately, he died a few days later, on August 2nd. The public health care facility immediately alerted authorities of the development. An investigation team comprising of WHO experts then collected samples from the deceased patient for testing.

We applaud the alertness and the quick investigative action by Guinea’s health workers. The potential for the Marburg virus to spread far and wide means we need to stop it in its tracks.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa

Since confirmation of the diagnosis, health authorities have identified 150 contacts of the patients. Moreover, they are currently closely monitoring the high-risk close contacts: three family members and a healthcare worker. None of them has developed symptoms yet.

The case comes just a few months after West Africa declared an end to a recent Ebola outbreak in the region.

Reference: World Health Organization


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here