What is the Marburg virus and should we be worried?
Ghana announced the country’s first outbreak of the Marburg virus after two people who were not related and had contracted the virus died on June 27 and 28.
Word of a new outbreak of a lethal disease caused by viral infections added to the concerns of a public weary from battling the coronavirus pandemic, and recently alarmed by the spread of monkeypox. But, should we be worried about this one?
The mortality rate of the Marburg virus can reach 88%, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and it is transmitted by fruit bats.
Although the Marburg virus is more characteristic of Africa, it was first detected in Europe in 1967. According to the WHO, the outbreak occurred in the German cities of Marburg and Frankfurt.
Image: Ansgar Scheffold / Unsplash
The outbreak in Germany was caused by African green monkeys in a laboratory. They were infected and spread it out to humans. Out of the people who contracted the Marburg virus disease, seven died.
In this tragic way, researchers who were working in the laboratory of the pharmaceutical company Behringwerke, with monkeys on the polio vaccine, contracted an unknown virus. Science soon gauged its enormous danger.
This is what the Marburg virus looks like under a microscope and, according to the WHO, infection by this virus “begins abruptly, with high fever, intense headache, as well as frequent muscle aches”.
“Intense diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramps, nausea and vomiting may appear on the third day. Diarrhea may persist for a week. In this phase, it has been described that patients present a 'ghostly appearance' due to sunken eyes, facial blankness, and extreme lethargy”, according to the WHO.
The Marburg virus can cause death due to the serious hemorrhagic manifestations it causes in the infected person, who usually loses blood through vomiting and diarrhea.
In the image, virus researchers in Uganda.
Being in contact with feces or fluids of the transmitting fruit bat in caves or other narrow and poorly ventilated spaces can infect us. Or, as happened in Marburg, it can be a secondary infection, through another animal or another human being.
Proof of the danger of the Marburg virus was what happened in Angola in 2014. There was an outbreak in the province of Uíge and out of the 374 people infected, 329 died.
The WHO assures that although the mortality of this virus can reach 88%, a timely diagnosis and adequate treatment can lower that mortality to 55% or even 20%.
There is no specific medicine that prevents getting sick and dying from the Marburg virus. Palliatives are applied against some symptoms, and it is expected that the patient will withstand the onslaught of such a violent microorganism.
As is the case with many other diseases that are suffered in poor countries, it is not good business for pharmaceutical companies to find a cure for the Marburg virus. Perhaps if an outbreak occurs in a rich country, things will change.
The Marburg virus is usually stopped by isolating the infected population, and those who suffer from it are usually so ill that they cannot travel very far and spread massively.
The Marburg virus usually breaks out in the form of an outbreak, after which there is no trace. It is in Africa where it causes the most victims: Angola and Uganda are two affected areas, but in 2022 several cases were detected in Ghana for the first time.
The World Health Organization warns against human incursion into caves where there is a high concentration of bats. They are sources of contagion of the Marburg virus and other ailments.
Image: Clement Falize / Unsplash
In the absence of a specific medication, the WHO limits itself to saying: “Rehydration and the rapid administration of symptomatic treatment improve survival”.
Dr. Jonathan Towner, who leads the Virus Host Ecology Section at the CDC, said Americans are not at high risk of exposure. “It’s a very, very low-risk probability at this point that there will be some travelers, for example, coming into the country with Marburg right now,” he said.