By Elisha Singira

Ghana has announced the country’s first outbreak of the Marburg virus – a highly infectious viral hemorrhagic fever in the same family as the Ebola virus disease.

This is after the World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Center laboratory in Senegal confirmed the result after testing two samples from unrelated patients from the Southern Ashanti region of Ghana.

One of the samples was for a 26-year-old male who checked into the hospital on 26 June 2022 and died the following day and the other sample was for a 51-year-old who checked in on 28 June 2022 and died on the same day. The two sought treatment at the same hospital on different days.

The WHO has been supporting a joint national investigative team in the Ashanti Region as well as Ghana’s health authorities by deploying experts, making available personal protective equipment, bolstering disease surveillance, testing, tracing contacts and working with communities to alert and educate them about the risks and dangers of the disease, and to collaborate with the emergency response teams.

More than 90 contacts, including health workers and community members, have been identified and are being monitored.

“Health authorities have responded swiftly, getting a head start preparing for a possible outbreak. This is good because without immediate and decisive action, Marburg can easily get out of hand. WHO is on the ground supporting health authorities and now that the outbreak is declared, we are marshalling more resources for the response,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

The virus is transmitted to people from fruit bats and spreads among humans through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected people, surfaces and materials. Illness begins abruptly, with high fever, severe headache and fatigue. Many patients develop severe hemorrhagic signs within seven days. According to WHO, case fatality rates have varied from 24% to 88% in past outbreaks depending on virus strain and the quality of case management.

Although there are no vaccines or antiviral treatments approved to treat the virus, supportive care – rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids – and treatment of specific symptoms, improve survival. A range of potential treatments, including blood products, immune therapies and drug therapies.

Previously, Marburg has been reported in sporadic cases in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda but through contact tracing, increased surveillance and other prevention measures, the virus was contained before it spread to larger areas.  WHO has formally reached out to neighboring high-risk countries and they are on alert.