By Vanessa Akoth
Marburg, which is a highly infectious disease that causes hemorrhagic fever, has for the first time been identified in Guinea, and in West Africa. The case was confirmed in the southern Gueckedou prefecture.
The virus was detected less than two months after Guinea declared an end to an Ebola outbreak that erupted earlier this year. Marburg hails from the same family as the virus that causes Ebola.
Samples taken from a now-deceased patient and tested by a field laboratory in Gueckedou as well as Guinea’s national hemorrhagic fever laboratory turned out positive for the Marburg virus. The Institute Pasteur in Senegal also confirmed the result after further analysis.
“We applaud the alertness and the quick investigative action by Guinea’s health workers. The potential for the Marburg virus to spread far and wide means we need to stop it in its tracks,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa.
Gueckedou, where Marburg has been confirmed, is also the same region where cases of the 2021 Ebola outbreak in Guinea as well as the 2014–2016 West Africa outbreak were initially detected.
Efforts are underway to find the people who may have been in contact with the patient. As the disease is appearing for the first time in the country, health authorities are launching public education and community mobilization to raise awareness and galvanize support to help curb widespread infection.
Dr Moeti said that WHO is working with the health authorities to implement a swift response that builds on Guinea’s past experience and expertise in managing Ebola, which is transmitted in a similar way.
Ten WHO experts, including epidemiologists and socio-anthropologists are on the ground helping to investigate the case and supporting the national health authorities to swiftly step up emergency response, including risk assessment, disease surveillance, community mobilization, testing, clinical care, infection prevention as well as logistical support.
In addition, Guinea’s boarders are under surveillance to quickly enhance detection of any cases, with neighboring countries on alert.
Marburg 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 malaise. Many patients develop severe hemorrhagic signs within seven days. Case fatality rates have varied from 24% to 88% in past outbreaks depending on virus strain and case management.
So far 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, improves survival. Evaluation is underway for potential treatment methods including blood products, immune therapies and drug therapies.