What you need to know about Marburg virus disease


Oluwatobiloba Jaiyeola

Marburg virus disease is an extremely infectious viral haemorrhagic fever in the same family as the well-known Ebola virus disease.

Both diseases are clinically similar and rare. They can cause outbreaks with high fatality rates.

Marburg virus disease was previously referred to as Marburg haemorrhagic fever and is often a severe fatal illness in humans.

The virus causes severe viral haemorrhagic fever in humans and was first recognised in 1967, when two large outbreaks took place at the same time in Marburg and Frankfurt in Germany, and in Belgrade, Serbia.

The outbreak was linked to laboratory work using African green monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops) brought in from Uganda.

Previous outbreaks and sporadic cases of Marburg in Africa have been reported in Angola, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, South Africa, and Uganda.

Marburg can be transmitted to individuals from continuous exposure to mines or caves inhabited by Rousettus bat colonies, fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family, are considered to be natural hosts of the Marburg virus. 

Once an individual gets infected with the virus, it spreads among humans through direct contact with the blood, secretions, organs, or other bodily fluids of infected people, and with contaminated surfaces and materials.

Early supportive care rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids and treatment of specific symptoms could improve a patient’s rate of survival.


Marburg Virus Disease has a fatality ratio of up to 88 per cent depending on virus strain and the quality of case management.


Marburg virus disease in Africa

While MVD has not yet been discovered in Nigeria, it has been identified in some African Countries.

Recently, the disease was detected in the Southern Ashanti region of Ghana.

The Ghanaian health authorities confirmed its first two cases after the World Health Organisation confirmed the results of tests carried out.

MVD was initially identified in a 26-year-old male who checked into a hospital on 26 June 2022 and died on 27 June 2022.

The second case was seen in a 51 -year-old male who reported to the hospital on 28 June 2022 and passed away on the same day.

Both patients displayed symptoms including diarrhoea, fever, nausea, and vomiting, before dying in the hospital.

According to the WHO, last year, one case of the disease was also confirmed in Guinea, however, the outbreak was declared over on 16 September 2021, five weeks after the initial case was identified.

Previous outbreaks and sporadic cases of Marburg have been recorded in other African countries like Angola, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, South Africa, and Uganda.

Cause of Marburg virus disease?

MVD is caused by the Marburg virus, a genetically unique zoonotic or animal-borne RNA virus of the filovirus family.

The six species of the Ebola virus are the only other known members of the filovirus family.

Signs & symptoms

The clinical diagnosis of MVD can be tough because of the similarity in the signs and symptoms with other infectious diseases such as malaria or typhoid fever.

The disease symptoms may also be similar to viral haemorrhagic fevers such as Lassa fever or Ebola.

However, the first set of symptoms that often shows up after an incubation period of two to 21 days is abrupt fever, chills, headache, and myalgia.

About the fifth day after the initial symptoms, an individual may experience the occurrence of a maculopapular rash, most noticeable on the trunk; chest, back, and stomach. Nausea, vomiting, chest pain, a sore throat, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea may also be present.

Symptoms become increasingly extreme and can include jaundice, inflammation of the pancreas, drastic weight loss, delirium, shock, liver failure, massive haemorrhaging, and multi-organ dysfunction.

How Marburg virus disease spread

It is not yet known how the Marburg virus first spreads from its animal host to individuals, however, in 2008, for two cases in tourists visiting Uganda, unprotected contact with infected bat feces or aerosols are the most possible routes of infection.

The disease can be transmitted through person-to-person contact such as through broken skin or mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, or mouth with blood or body fluids of infected people, and also with contaminated surfaces and materials.

The virus can also remain in certain body fluids including the semen of a man who has recovered from MVD. It can be spread through oral, vaginal, or anal sex even if they no longer have symptoms of severe illness.

There is no evidence that the Marburg virus can spread through sex or other contacts with vaginal fluids from a woman who has had MVD.

How long does Marburg virus disease last?

The incubation period for Marburg virus disease varies from two to 21 days. Transmission does not occur during the incubation period. 

 Is there a treatment for Marburg virus disease?

Although there are no specific approved vaccines or antiviral treatments to treat the condition, early supportive care, rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids and treatment of specific symptoms could improve a patient’s rate of survival.

A variety of possible treatments, including blood products, immune therapies, and drug therapies, as well as candidate vaccines with phase 1 data are currently being assessed.

 What should be done when exposed to an animal or person with Marburg virus disease?

Any individual experiencing early symptoms of the viral condition or who is likely exposed to the Marburg virus needs to be isolated and public health professionals should be notified. Samples from the patient can then be obtained and tested to confirm infection.

Additional information from the World Health Organisation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


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