Ghana announced the first outbreak of the Marburg virus disease after two unrelated people died on June 27 and 28. The news of a new outbreak of a deadly disease caused by viral infections added to the concern of a public tired of battling the coronavirus pandemic, and recently alarmed by the spread of monkey pox and a new case of polio.
Doctors and public health experts in the country immediately began searching for anyone exposed and investigating the cause of the spread in an effort to contain the infection. For now, health researchers in Ghana and other parts of the world said there was no evidence that the virus had spread further.
What is Marburg virus disease?
Marburg was first discovered in 1967, when outbreaks of hemorrhagic fever occurred simultaneously in labs in Marburg and Frankfurt in Germany, and in Belgrade, in what is now Serbia — in cases related to African green monkeys imported from Uganda. Other cases have since been found in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda, according to the World Health Organization. Last month’s cases in Ghana were the first to be recorded in that country.
The Marburg virus is the pathogen that causes Marburg virus disease in humans, health experts say.
There are no vaccines or antiviral treatments for the disease, medical experts said, but hydrating patients and treating their specific symptoms can increase their chances of survival.
The disease is clinically similar to Ebola in its spread, symptoms and progression, although it is caused by a different virus, according to the WHO. In Marburg’s case, fruit bats are considered to be the hosts of the virus, although researchers say this is not the case. make them sick. Researchers believe that Ebola is likely transmitted by bats or by non-human primates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While not widespread, Marburg has been fatal, with death rates ranging from 24 to 88 percent, depending on which strain people contract and the management of cases, according to the WHO. The death rates from Ebola cases are almost the same.
The Marburg virus can spread through direct contact with blood, secretions or other bodily fluids of infected people, according to WHO. It can also spread through contact with contaminated surfaces and materials such as bedding or clothing.
What are the symptoms of Marburg virus disease?
Marburg can cause severe viral hemorrhagic fever, which interferes with the blood’s ability to clot. The incubation period varies from two to 21 days, and according to the WHO, symptoms begin abruptly with a high fever, severe headache and severe malaise. Other symptoms may include muscle aches, diarrhea, nausea, lethargy, and bleeding from vomit, feces, and other components.
“The mortality is very high,” says Dr. John Amuasi, head of the global health and infectious diseases research group at the Kumasi Center for Collaborative Research in Tropical Medicine in Kumasi, Ghana. “And there is no asymptomatic Marburg.”
A patient can confirm his condition is Marburg through antibody, antigen and polymerase chain reaction tests, health organizations said.
How many cases have there been this year?
Only two cases of the Marburg virus disease have been reported this year, both in Ghana. The people who contracted the virus were not related to each other and were in different parts of Ghana’s Ashanti region, said Dr. amuasi. They both died.
Both patients were men who worked on farms, he said. One was a 26-year-old farmhand who had recently traveled to another part of the country for work, and the other was a 56-year-old subsistence farmer. Contact tracing by local authorities led to the conclusion that the men had not been to the same places.
Fruit bats, known as carriers of the virus, are common in the Ashanti region.
How does the outbreak compare to the previous one?
More than 200 people died in an outbreak in Angola from 2004 to 2005, and more than 100 died from the disease in the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1998 to 2000, according to the CDC. Other Marburg outbreaks have not involved as many cases.
In 2021, there was one case in Guinea resulting in that person’s death, and three of the four people who had the disease in Uganda in 2017 also died, according to the CDC
Experts want to know how the two people contracted the virus in Ghana, said Dr. Francis Kasolo, the WHO representative in the country.
“The current research is not just focused on contacts,” said Dr. Kasolo. “We’re also going back to medical records in these areas to see if there were any unusual events in terms of cases showing symptoms, so we’re hesitant to say this is just a one-time event.”
Do we have to worry?
The CDC’s Ghana office is working with local health authorities to assist with testing and epidemiological research, said Dr. Jonathan Towner, who heads the Virus Host Ecology Section at the CDC.
People in the United States are not at high risk for exposure, said Dr. towner.
“It’s a very, very slim chance at this point that there will be travelers, like coming into the country with Marburg right now,” he said.
So far, said Dr. Amuasi, the public health response was appropriate and transparent. The contacts of the two infected people were checked, especially in the 21 days after the two died.