2 patients died of Marburg virus in the southern Ashanti region of Ghana. Nearly 100 close contacts are now under observation for the infectious disease, which is a cousin of the Ebola virus.
The patients died in a hospital in the southern Ashanti region of Ghana, and test samples sent to a Senegal laboratory earlier this month verified they had contracted Marburg.
The first patient was a 26-year-old man who checked into the hospital on June 26 and died a day later; the second was a 51-year-old-man who was admitted to the hospital on June 28 and died the same day.
Because of the infectious and fatal nature of the disease, 98 close contacts of the deceased individuals, including healthcare workers and community members, are currently quarantined and under observation for Marburg virus.
Marburg is a rare, but highly infectious, viral hemorrhagic fever. The Marburg virus abruptly becomes symptomatic, with fever, severe headache, and muscle pains, but in 3 days causes diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and extreme blood loss. Death usually occurs after 8-9 days, resulting from hemorrhaging and multiorgan dysfunction.
This is Ghana’s first reported Marburg outbreak, but the virus has previously killed hundreds of people, primarily in the countries of Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The virus is most frequently carried by Egyptian fruit bats, as well as African green monkeys and pigs. Among people, the Marburg virus is spread through bodily fluids and contaminated bedding. Family members and healthcare workers caring for infected people are most at risk of contracting the virus.
Though extremely rare outside of Africa, a Dutch woman died of Marburg after visiting Uganda in 2008, the same year an American contracted the virus and recovered. Both tourists had visited a fruit bat cave in a Ugandan national park.
The first ever Marburg viral outbreak occurred in Germany in 1967, killing 7 people and infecting 29. The most serious outbreak occurred in Angola in 2005, during which there were 374 cases resulting in 329 deaths. The virus kills an average of half of the people it infects, but the most harmful strains have killed up to 88%.
Recovered persons can infect others via blood or semen for months after contracting Marburg. Even postmortem, the body of an infected individual can be contagious.
While there is no vaccine nor treatment for Marburg, drinking sufficient water and treating specific symptoms can greatly improve a patient’s chance of survival.
“Health authorities have responded swiftly, getting a head start preparing for a possible outbreak. This is good because without immediate and decisive action, Marburg can easily get out of hand,” said Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization (WHO) regional director for Africa.