Ghana confirmed the country’s first outbreak of the deadly Marburg virus on Sunday, placing it and neighboring countries on high alert as experts scramble to contain the highly infectious Ebola-like disease for which there is no approved vaccine or treatment.
Marburg is a highly infectious viral hemorrhagic fever in the same family as Ebola.
The virus is initially transmitted to people from fruit bats and spreads among humans through contact with the bodily fluids of infected people, according to to the WHO.
Illness begins suddenly and symptoms include high fever, muscle pains, bleeding, severe headaches, diarrhea and vomiting blood.
Marburg causes serious illness and can be lethal, with fatality rates from past outbreaks varying from 24% to 88% depending on virus strain and quality of care among sufferers.
There are no vaccines or treatments approved to treat the virus—several are in early stages of development—though supportive care like rehydration and the treatment of specific symptoms can improve outcomes.
Ghana's Ministry of Health confirmed two cases of Marburg virus disease on Sunday after the virus was found in the blood of two deceased patients suffering from symptoms including diarrhea, fever, nausea and vomiting. It is the country's first outbreak and only the second time the disease has been detected in West Africa. Nearly 100 people have been placed under quarantine after being identified as potential contacts. Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, praised the country's “swift response,” warning that “Marburg can easily get out of hand… without immediate and decisive action.” The WHO said it is supporting health officials in Ghana and has reached out to neighboring high-risk countries and they "are on alert."
Marburg is a rare but serious disease. African fruit bats are the natural hosts of the virus—infected bats do not show There are obvious signs of illness—but Marburg sometimes spills over into primates, including people, with devastating effect. Health officials in Ghana have advised people to avoid caves and mines occupied by bats to minimize the risk of spreading the virus and to thoroughly cook meat before consumption. The virus was first identified in 1967 after several simultaneous cases linked to infected laboratory monkeys in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany and Belgrade, then Yugoslavia. There have been a number of Marburg virus disease outbreaks since then, notably in Angola during 2004-2005 and the Democratic Republic of Congo during 1998-2000, which killed hundreds of people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that diagnosis of Marburg virus disease “can be difficult” as many signs and symptoms are similar to other infectious diseases like malaria or typhoid fever or other hemorrhagic fevers like Lassa or Ebola.
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