Rare Outbreak of Deadly Marburg Disease Is Detected

WHO: It's Equatorial Guinea's first outbreak
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 15, 2023 10:51 AM CST
Rare Outbreak of Deadly Marburg Disease Is Detected
In this Oct. 8, 2014, photo, a medical worker carries a meal to an isolation tent housing a man being quarantined after coming into contact in Uganda with a carrier of the Marburg virus at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya.   (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

On Monday, the Central African nation of Equatorial Guinea announced a deadly outbreak of the Marburg virus, a highly infectious disease similar to Ebola. The World Health Organization says at least nine people have died there of the illness, with 16 others suspected of having it. Then, on Tuesday, authorities in neighboring Cameroon pointed to its own suspected cases—two 16-year-olds—in a border commune, despite trying to keep movement along the border to a minimum to stop the spread, reports Reuters. Robert Mathurin Bidjang, a health delegate for the region, says that more than three dozen people who were around the teens have since been identified, and that contact tracing is underway.

The developments have prompted the WHO to increase its surveillance in that section of Africa of the virus, whose fatality rate in past outbreaks has ranged from 24% to 88%; it has no vaccine or antiviral treatment. Marburg, which was first identified in 1967 in Germany and Serbia, is a rare virus from the Filoviridae family that leads to hemorrhagic fever; it's spread not in the air but through bodily fluids of the infected, plus via surfaces and materials, per the Washington Post. Other symptoms in addition to fever include fatigue, headache, chills, muscle aches, and diarrhea and vomit spotted with blood. The WHO notes that patients can appear "ghost-like," with sunken eyes, pronounced lethargy, and "expressionless faces."

In fatal cases, things usually take a turn for the worse just over a week after the disease's onset, usually after severe blood loss and shock. The CDC notes that experimental treatments specifically for Marburg—which has also been detected in a handful of other African countries—have been tested so far on animals only. STAT points out that an outbreak is needed to see if they'll work in humans, and it notes outbreaks are "blessedly rare"—just 16 to date, 14 of which were stopped nearly right away with the use of quarantines and protective equipment. The last time an outbreak involved more than 10 cases was in 2012, when there were 15. (More Marburg virus stories.)

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