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Marburg virus: What you need to know about Disease recently detected in West Africa

Image credit: BBC 3 mins read

On Monday, August 9, 2021, the World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed the first case of Marburg virus in West Africa in Guinea. This development has sent shivers down the spines of West Africans who are still grappling with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. But before this dreaded disease is greeted by rumours and misinformation, here is what you have to know about the virus.

Origin of  Marburg Virus Disease

The American Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) described the Marburg Virus Disease (MVD) as an infectious disease which causes severe hemorrhagic fever in humans. The Marburg virus is in the same family as the virus that causes Ebola, the filovirus family, and can be transmitted in similar ways. The fatality rates have varied from 24 per cent to 88 per cent in past outbreaks, depending on virus strain and case management.

Marburg virus was first recognised in laboratories when outbreaks of hemorrhagic fever occurred in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany and in Belgrade, Serbia in the year 1967. The laboratory workers who were the first people to get infected were exposed to African green monkeys imported from Uganda for research.

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

African fruit bats (Rousettus aegyptiacus) are believed to be the reservoir host of Marburg virus and the virus can jump to another host which can transmit to humans. The first humans infected with Marburg virus had been  exposed to African green monkeys from Uganda while many of the other outbreaks in Africa started with male workers in bat-infested mines.

The virus can be transmitted through direct contact with body fluids of infected people, surfaces and materials.

What are MVD symptoms?

The CDC says the incubation period takes 2 – 21 days after a person has contracted the Marburg virus disease. The disease causes onset symptoms such as  fever, chills, headache, and myalgia. CDC stated further that maculopapular rash, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, sore throat, abdominal pain, and diarrhea may appear around the fifth day after the onset of symptoms. Some patients’ symptoms may become severe and can include jaundice, inflammation of the pancreas, severe weight loss, delirium, shock, liver failure, massive hemorrhaging, and multi-organ dysfunction.

How can MVD be diagnosed?

The global health body, WHO also explained that it can be difficult to distinguish Marburg virus disease from other diseases such as malaria, typhoid fever, shigellosis, meningitis and other viral haemorrhagic fevers, hence, symptoms can be confirmed using the following diagnostic methods:

  • Antibody-capture enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA)
  • Antigen-capture detection tests
  • Serum neutralisation test
  • Reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assay
  • Electron microscopy
  • Virus isolation by cell culture.

Can it be treated?

There is currently no vaccine or antiviral treatments to prevent MVD, just like the situation was when the novel COVID-19 started in 2019. The WHO, however, explained that some monoclonal antibodies and other antivirals being used in clinical studies for Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) could also be explored for MVD (e.g. Galidesvir, Favipiravir, Remdesivir).

Nigeria is at low risk – NCDC DG

The Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, in an interview on Friday, August 13, said that the Nigerian government is closely monitoring the MVD situation in Guinea and across the world.“We are very aware and it tells us that we have to always be on our guard here. We set up a risk analysis team, evaluated the risk for Nigeria. It is low at the moment,” he said.

“What we did is to make sure that we have the facilities to detect this if there were to be a suspect case. We are watching out for travellers and [we are] working with our colleagues in the Port Health Services to look at the travel history of individuals that travel,” he added.

The researcher produced this fact-check per the Dubawa 2021 Kwame KariKari Fellowship partnership with The Nigerian Tribune to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.

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