Equatorial Guinea confirmed this Monday, February 13, its first outbreak of the Marburg virus disease. Preliminary tests carried out after the deaths of at least nine people in the western province of Kie Ntem came back positive for viral hemorrhagic fever.
The health authorities of Equatorial Guinea sent samples to the reference laboratory of the Institut Pasteur in Senegal with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO) to determine the cause of the disease following an alert from a district health official on February 7. Of the eight samples tested at the Pasteur Institute, one came back positive for the virus. So far there have been reported nine deaths and 16 suspected cases with symptoms including fever, fatigue, and bloody vomiting and diarrhea.
As the CDC makes clear, Marburg is a zoonotic virus that, along with the six Ebola virus species, comprises the filovirus family. Marburg virus was first identified in 1967, when outbreaks of hemorrhagic fever occurred simultaneously in laboratories in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany, and in Belgrade, Serbia. “Marburg is highly infectious. Thanks to the swift and decisive action of the Equatorial Guinean authorities in confirming the disease, the emergency response can be rapidly accelerated so that we can save lives and stop the virus as soon as possible,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, Regional Director of the WHO for Africa.
More investigations are currently underway, and while advance teams have been deployed in the affected districts to trace contacts, isolate and provide medical care to people showing symptoms of the disease. Efforts are also underway to rapidly mount a emergency responsewith WHO deploying health emergency experts in epidemiology, case management, infection prevention, laboratory and risk communication to support national response efforts and ensure community collaboration in outbreak control.
WHO is also facilitating the shipment of tents of laboratory gloves for sample analysis, as well as a viral hemorrhagic fever kit that includes personal protective equipment that can be used by 500 health workers.
This is the Marburg virus: a disease with high mortality
Marburg virus disease is a highly virulent disease that causes hemorrhagic fever, with a mortality rate of up to 88%. It belongs to the same family as the virus that causes Ebola virus disease. Illness caused by the Marburg virus begins abruptly, with high fever, severe headache, and severe general malaise. Many patients develop severe bleeding symptoms within seven days.
The virus is transmitted to people through fruit bats and is spread between humans through direct contact with people’s bodily fluids, surfaces such as contaminated sheets, and infected materials.
There are no vaccines or antiviral treatments approved to treat Marburg virus. However, supportive care (rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids) and treatment of specific symptoms improves survival. A variety of potential treatments are being evaluated, including blood products, immunotherapies, and pharmacotherapies, as well as candidate vaccines with Phase 1 data.