Can the Marburg virus kill you? 5 reasons why it's one of the deadliest illnesses in the world
The World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement yesterday confirming that the Marburg virus has claimed three lives in the Kween District of Eastern Uganda. Marburg is an extremely rare and contagious virus, and is similar in symptoms and deadliness to Ebola.
The current outbreak of Marburg has a fatality rate of 100%, considering that all three reported cases (within the same family) have resulted in death. In an effort to contain it from spreading, health workers are currently tracking the virus.
Based on past outbreaks of Marburg (such as the 1967 Marburg, Germany episode that prompted the virus’s name), the fatality rate usually ranges between 23-90%. Unfortunately, there is no treatment or cure for Marburg and coupled with its contagiousness, the virus can cause an epidemic if left to spread beyond initial outbreak areas.
A Marburg outbreak in a single district of Uganda is global news because of the virus’s deadliness. Although outbreaks are rare and the virus has claimed less than 10 lives in the past 10 years, Marburg has the potential to spread quickly and become a worldwide pandemic.
Below, we’ve listed reasons why Marburg can be considered one of the deadliest illnesses in the world, and have also noted what’s being done to stop its progression.
1The virus acts quickly when introduced into the blood stream.
According to WHO, Marburg takes anywhere from two to 21 days to show symptoms. Those infected will begin to exhibit high fevers, intense headaches, muscle pains, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and vomiting. Patients’ faces begin to look gaunt, and “ghost-like,” as WHO describes, as they show little expression and act lethargic.
Those in more advanced stages of the illness will begin to experience hemorrhaging from locations like the gums, nose, or, for women, vagina. They will also become confused or irritated due to the high fever. In fatal cases, death occurs about eight days after symptoms begin to show.
2It’s extremely contagious.
The virus was initially transmitted to humans by infected fruit bats and/or monkeys, like in the original 1967 outbreak when lab workers were infected by African green monkeys imported from Uganda. However, human-to-human transmission can be the most deadly. Humans can spread the disease through contact with infected blood, secretions, mucus, skin, and even by touching surfaces or materials that an infected person has touched.
Ugandan burial ceremonies often include touching dead bodies, which is one of the biggest threats when it comes to the Marburg virus spreading.
3The virus can stick around in those who have recovered from past Marburg infections.
Some cases show that women who became infected with Marburg while pregnant had traces of Marburg left in their placenta, amniotic fluid, and fetus. Similarly, women who were infected while breastfeeding may still have traces of the virus in their breastmilk after recovery.
The Marburg virus may also persist in the testicles and inside the eye of previously infected patients.
4It can be hard to diagnose patients infected with Marburg.
Because the symptoms of the Marburg virus are so similar to those of malaria, typhoid fever, shigellosis, meningitis, and other viral haemorrhagic fevers, WHO states that diagnosis can be delayed, thereby increasing dissemination time.
A series of tests must be run on a patient thought to be infected, and the samples taken to run these tests are considered biohazard material. Special precautions must be taken to run the tests and transport the samples.
5The virus can spread to domesticated animals.
WHO reports that experiments have shown pigs are susceptible to filovirus infections (including Ebola and Marburg) via fruit bats and said pigs can spread the infection. Because of this, farmers could easily contract the virus from their animals and, as a result, precautionary measures must be taken during outbreaks to contain the virus.
As of right now, health workers are doing their best to track the current outbreak. They are working closely with Ugandan and Kenyan locals to educate them on how to stay safe.