WHO identifies deadly Marburg virus in Ghana: What you should know

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WHO identifies deadly Marburg virus in Ghana: What you should know

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In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the rise in monkeypox cases, news of another virus may unnerve the world. According to the World Health Organization, the highly infectious Marburg virus was reported in West African Ghana this week.

Two unrelated people died after testing positive for Marburg in the country’s southern Ashanti region, the WHO said on Sunday, confirming lab results from Ghana’s health service. The highly contagious disease is similar to Ebola and has no vaccine.

Health officials in the country say they are working to isolate close contacts and contain the spread of the virus, and the WHO is assembling resources and sending specialists to the country.

“Health officials reacted quickly and got a head start on a possible outbreak. This is good because without immediate and decisive action, Marburg can easily spiral out of control,” said WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti.

The death rate from the disease can reach almost 90 percent, according to the WHO.

Here’s what we know about the virus:

What is the Marburg virus?

Marburg is a rare but highly contagious viral hemorrhagic fever and belongs to the same family as Ebola, a better known virus that has plagued West Africa for years.

Marburg virus is a “genetically unique zoonotic … RNA virus of the filovirus family,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The six species of Ebola virus are the only other known members of the filovirus family.”

According to the WHO, mortality rates range from 24 to 88 percent, depending on the virus strain and the quality of case management.

Marburg was likely transmitted to humans from African fruit bats as a result of prolonged exposure from humans working in mines and caves housing Rousettus bat colonies. It’s not an airborne disease.

Once someone is infected, the virus can easily spread between people through direct contact with infected people’s bodily fluids, such as blood, saliva, or urine, as well as on surfaces and materials. Relatives and health workers remain the most vulnerable alongside patients, and dead bodies can remain contagious at burial.

The first cases of the virus were identified in Europe in 1967. Two major outbreaks in Marburg and Frankfurt in Germany and in Belgrade, Serbia led to the first detection of the disease. At least seven deaths were reported in that outbreak, with the first infected being exposed to imported African green monkeys or their tissue from Uganda while laboratory research was being conducted, the CDC said.

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Where was Marburg detected?

The Ghana cases are only the second time that Marburg has been detected in West Africa. The first reported case in the region was in Guinea last year. The virus can spread quickly. More than 90 contacts, including health workers and community members, are being monitored in Ghana. The WHO said it had also reached out to neighboring high-risk countries to put them on alert.

Cases of Marburg have already been reported from other parts of Africa, including Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The largest outbreak killed more than 200 people in Angola in 2005.

The virus is not known to be native to other continents like North America, and the CDC says cases are “rare” outside of Africa. In 2008, however, a Dutch woman died of Marburg disease after visiting Uganda. An American tourist also contracted the disease after a trip to Uganda in 2008, but recovered. Both travelers had visited a well-known cave inhabited by flying foxes in a national park.

According to the WHO, the disease begins “suddenly” with a high fever, severe headache and malaise. Muscle aches and cramping pains are also common features.

In Ghana, the two unrelated people who died suffered from symptoms including diarrhea, fever, nausea and vomiting. One case was a 26-year-old man who was hospitalized on June 26 and died a day later. The second was a 51-year-old man who went to a hospital on June 28 and died the same day, the WHO said.

In fatal cases, death usually occurs between eight and nine days after onset of the disease and is preceded by severe blood loss and bleeding and multiple organ dysfunction.

The CDC has also noted that a non-itchy rash can appear on the chest, back, or abdomen around day five. The clinical diagnosis of Marburg “can be difficult,” they say, since many of the symptoms are similar to those of other infectious diseases such as malaria or typhoid.

There are no approved vaccines or antiviral treatments to treat Marburg virus.

However, supportive care can improve survival rates, such as These include rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids, maintaining oxygen levels, administering drug therapies, and treating specific symptoms as they arise. Some health experts say drugs similar to those used for Ebola could be effective.

Some “experimental treatments” for Marburg have been tested on animals but have never been tried on humans, the CDC said.

Virus samples collected from patients being examined pose an “extreme biohazard risk”, according to the WHO, and laboratory testing should be carried out under “maximum biological containment conditions”.

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The WHO said this week it supports a “joint national investigation team” in Ghana and is sending its own experts to the country. It is also sending out personal protective equipment, stepping up disease surveillance and tracing contacts in response to the handful of cases.

More details are expected to be given at an online WHO Africa briefing scheduled for Thursday.

“It is worrying that the geographic range of this viral infection appears to have spread. This is a very serious infection with a high mortality rate,” international public health expert and professor Jimmy Whitworth of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told The Washington Post on Monday.

“It is important to understand how the virus entered the human population in order to cause this outbreak and stop further cases. At present, the risk of the outbreak spreading outside the Ashanti region of Ghana is very low,” he added.

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