By Gift Briton
With four cases of reported Marburg virus disease and three fatalities since June, Ghana has been making recommendable progress in containing the outbreak.
Marburg virus, a highly infectious viral hemorrhagic fever disease in the family of Ebola virus, is transmitted to humans from a fruit bat specifically, Rousettus aegyptiacus. With no vaccines or antiviral treatments, the disease has a fatality rate of almost 90 percent.
Speaking during Africa Science Media Centre (AfriSMC) press briefing on containment strategies Ghana used and lessons for Africa, Dr. Michael Owusu, Clinical Microbiologist in Ghana, noted that prior to the outbreak, intensive research in animal viruses with potential of being transmitted to human, was already going in the country under suspicion that sooner or later, some of those organisms would cause an outbreak.
After the announcement of the outbreak, Ghana engaged in a lot of containment strategies including assigning wildlife division to conduct surveillance along the animal chain to find out which of them are reservoirs of the deadly virus.
The country also engaged in a robust surveillance system (Integrated Surveillance Disease Response System) that allowed doctors and clinicians report new cases of deadly diseases immediately they are detected and the samples of patients sent to public health division of the Ghana health service for analysis before an alarm is raised.
Ghana has about 70 sites with Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) equipment that can test for viruses, thanks to COVID-19 which brought a lot of improvement the health systems. Through these, people who had earlier interacted with the patients were traced, tested and put under quarantine for 21 days for monitoring.
Dr. Owusu says that men despite being cured can transmit the disease through sexual intercourse because the virus can survive in semen. Therefore, even after being cured men are advised to abstain from having sex for some time.
According to him, one of the main transmission routes of Marburg particularly in Africa is through burial ceremonies because unlike COVID-19, if one dies of Marburg or Ebola, the body becomes more infectious.
In Ghana, people are being educated on the Dos and Don’ts of the disease such as avoiding raw meat, bat meat and bush meat along the places where the outbreak has happened and avoiding handling the bodies of people who have died of abnormal cause. They are also being advised to cook the meat properly before consuming it.
The second likely transmission route is the healthcare system, thus he notes that healthcare officers need high level of personal protective equipment to be able to deal with the virus, adding that Marburg is highly fatal and therefore clinicians and doctors need to be more protected before they can handle fluids, dead bodies and exposures from infected patients.
As such, Ghana launched an active campaign in the healthcare setting on observing all the protective protocols in handling infected patients such as using personal protective equipment(PPEs), sanitation and disinfection.
Dr. Owusu notes that although there are no vaccines or antiviral treatments approved to treat the virus, Ghana relied on supportive care – rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids – and treatment of specific symptoms like inflammation, pain and bleeding to improves survival chances of the victims.
He adds that faced with the same situation, governments should intensify campaigns at the border regions to avoid cross border transmission and put in place an intensive surveillance system. However, he observed this may involve a lot of work and cost to sustain. As a result, Dr. Owusu urges countries to strengthen and seek support from funding agencies to ensure that this is done actively and kept running.
Meanwhile, WHO advises that a multisectoral response encompassing experts in human, animal and environmental health and working in collaboration with communities alongside putting in place surveillance mechanisms and response capacities to rapidly detect pathogens and mounting robust responses to quell any potential spread, is crucial in averting new big health shocks and the burden caused by these disease.