Marburg virus symptoms: Highly infectious virus has potential to spread ‘far and wide’

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Since 1967, there have been 12 major Marburg virus outbreaks, mostly in eastern and southern Africa. But the World Health Organization (WHO) has now confirmed the first Marburg virus death in western Africa after one person died in Guinea.

Guinea’s new case of Marburg virus was confirmed last week after the patient sought treatment at a local clinic, the WHO said.

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, said in a statement: “The potential for the Marburg virus to spread far and wide means we need to stop it in its tracks.

“We are working with the health authorities to implement a swift response that builds on Guinea’s past experience and expertise in managing Ebola, which is transmitted in a similar way.”

The WHO said Marburg case fatality rates have varied from 24 percent to 88 percent in past outbreaks, depending on virus strain and case management.

What are the symptoms of Marburg virus?

Marburg virus is one of two viruses of the Filovirus family, the other being the Ebola virus.

Marburg virus can cause severe and fatal haemorrhagic fever (VHF).

Symptoms of the virus include headache, vomiting blood, muscle pains and bleeding through various orifices.

According to the UK Government website, the incubation period of Marburg haemorrhagic fever is three to 10 days.

The onset of illness is sudden, with:

  • severe headache
  • malaise
  • high fever
  • progressive and rapid debilitation

By about the third day, symptoms include:

  • watery diarrhoea
  • abdominal pain
  • cramping
  • nausea
  • vomiting

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The Government guidance notes that symptoms become “increasingly severe”, with many patients developing severe haemorrhagic fever after five to seven days.

The Government guidance adds: “Fatal cases usually exhibit some form of bleeding, often from multiple sites.

“Many of the early symptoms of Marburg haemorrhagic fever are similar to those of other infectious diseases, such as malaria or typhoid.

“Confirmation of the disease requires laboratory testing.”

How is Marburg virus transmitted?

The initial infection in Marburg virus outbreaks starts with “exposure in mines or caves inhabited by Rousettus bat colonies”, the Government guidance states.

One infected person can pass Marburg virus to another through close contact.

Blood and other bodily fluids, such as saliva and vomit, can also transmit the virus to another person.

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