WHO confirms Marburg outbreak in Equatorial Guinea

  • Equatorial Guinea confirmed an outbreak of the deadly Marburg virus this week.
  • The highly contagious virus causes fever, fatigue, and blood-stained vomit.
  • There are no vaccines or antiviral treatments currently approved to treat the virus.

The World Health Organization confirmed an outbreak of the deadly Marburg virus in Equatorial Guinea this week.

The viral fever is confirmed to have killed at least one person in the country and is linked to another eight deaths, according to the organization. In addition to the nine deaths, there are another 16 suspected cases in the country, with patients exhibiting symptoms that include fever, fatigue, and blood-stained vomit and diarrhea.

The virus’ presence in the country’s eastern Kie Ntem Province marks the first outbreak of the disease in Equatorial Guinea. It comes approximately six months after an outbreak of cases was reported in Ghana in July 2022.

Marburg virus is rare among people but it is highly infectious once it finds a human host, and the disease can be fatal, with an average fatality rate of around 50%, according to the WHO. During a 2005 outbreak of the virus in Angola, the death rate among Marburg patients was as high as 88%, the agency said.

What are the symptoms of the Marburg virus?

Common symptoms of the Marburg virus include hemorrhagic fever, fatigue, blood-stained vomit, and diarrhea.

Illness from the disease often begins abruptly, according to the WHO, starting with a high fever, a bad headache, and malaise. Muscle aches and cramps can accompany the onset, as well as jaundice, nausea, and pain in the abdomen.

The CDC said a non-itchy rash can also appear around the fifth day of the disease, striking the patient’s chest, back, or stomach.

Patients can occur “ghost-like” around day three, with deep-set eyes, expressionless faces, and extreme lethargy, according to the WHO.

In fatal cases, death often occurs between eight and nine days after the onset, usually preceded by blood loss and shock, the agency said.

The virus is highly contagious and bodies can remain contagious even after death.

What is the treatment for Marburg?

There are no known vaccines or antiviral treatments currently approved for the virus, according to the WHO, but supportive care, including rehydration efforts and treatment of specific symptoms, can improve patients’ chances of survival.

Marburg virus can be difficult to diagnose given its similar presentation to several other infectious diseases, including malaria, typhoid fever, meningitis, and Ebola. The disease originates from the same virus that causes Ebola.

The Marburg virus is transmitted to humans via fruit bats, which are a natural host of the virus, according to the WHO.

The virus is not respiratory. Once a human is infected, the virus spreads through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected people, as well as via contaminated surfaces and materials.

The virus was first recognized in 1967 among lab workers conducting research in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany, and in Belgrade, Serbia.

How is the WHO responding to Equatorial Guinea’s outbreak?

The UN health agency said in a Monday statement that it had deployed health emergency experts in epidemiology, case management, and infection prevention to Equatorial Guinea to try and control the outbreak.

The organization also sent advance teams to the impacted area to trace contacts, isolate people showing symptoms of the disease, and provide medical care.

Authorities in neighboring Cameroon said Wednesday that the country had detected two suspected cases of the disease in a commune that shares a border with Equatorial Guinea.