Will Marburg virus hit the U.S.? Here's what you need to know
A very rare and contagious disease called the Marburg virus has claimed three lives in the Kween District of Eastern Uganda this month. The Ugandan Ministry of Health notified the World Health Organization (WHO) of the outbreak on October 17th. The three deaths, all from the same family, were results of three confirmed Marburg virus cases. Meaning the current case-fatality rate is at 100%. (One of the family members had traveled to Kenya before her death, but no confirmed Marburg cases in Kenya have been reported.)
The Marburg virus was given its name after two large outbreaks of the disease were reported in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany, as well as Belgrade, Serbia, in 1967. The last known Marburg outbreak happened in Uganda in 2014 when one health worker contracted the virus.
Marburg and Ebola are in the same Filoviridae family and share clinical similarities. WHO states that Marburg is transmitted by infected fruit bats or monkeys, and can be transmitted from human to human via blood, bodily fluids, and through infected tissue.
WHO reports that the Marburg fatality rate can range anywhere between 23-90% and has the ability to become an epidemic if not contained.
So are we at risk for contracting Marburg in America?
There’s no reason to panic just yet if you’re a U.S. dweller. As of right now, the affected areas are located in rural Uganda near the border of Kenya, and containment of the virus is underway.
Marburg is certainly not a new threat. There was a larger outbreak of Marburg in Uganda in 2012, during which the virus infected 15 people and claimed 4 lives.
The Marburg virus takes about 2 to 21 days to incubate in a person’s system after initial contact. Those infected will experience flulike symptoms including high fever, headaches, muscle aches, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
Patients who are about a week into their illness will become “ghost-like,” WHO states. Their eyes will be sunken in and they’ll be extremely lethargic and emotionless.
Death usually occurs from blood loss and shock.
There is no cure or treatment for Marburg yet. Rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids has proven to increase chance of survival, and according to WHO, potential treatments are currently being evaluated. But in order to get this outbreak controlled, health workers are tracking the virus, educating affected communities, and taking extreme containment measures. This includes restricting communities from practicing burial traditions in which the body of the deceased is touched and bathed.
Like Ebola, the Marburg virus is something the world must keep an eye on. Hopefully WHO and participating organizations caught wind of it before the outbreak had a chance to become more threatening.