Recently, Ghana announced the country’s first Marburg virus disease outbreak, after receiving a confirmatory report of the disease from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Collaborating Centre Laboratory.
What is Marburg virus disease (MVD)?
MVD is caused by the Marburg virus, a genetically unique zoonotic virus that can infect both human and non-human primates. This RNA virus belongs to the filovirus family that causes rare but severe hemorrhagic fever. Other members of this family include the Ebola virus.
Marburg virus was first discovered in 1967, when the hemorrhagic fever outbreak occurred in laboratories in Germany (Marburg and Frankfurt) and Serbia (Belgrade). During this outbreak, many laboratory workers and their family members contracted the disease, and seven of them lost their lives.
Scientists reported that the African fruit bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus) is the reservoir host of the Marburg virus. Fruit bats infected with the Marburg virus do not exhibit any indicative symptoms.
Transmission of MVD
Previous studies have indicated that infected African fruit bats transmitted the disease to the human host. These studies have reported that in 2008, two tourists contracted MVD in Uganda after being exposed to infected bat feces or aerosols, which are the possible routes of infection. After the initial crossover of the virus occurred from the zoonotic host to humans, the infection was transmitted via person-to-person contact.
Scientists reported that MVD spread through blood or body fluids (semen, saliva, tears, etc.) of the infected person to a healthy individual. Contaminated surfaces and materials can also transmit infection. The virus remains viable in certain body fluids, such as semen, even after the patient recovers from MVD and does not exhibit any symptoms.
MVD outbreak in Ghana and WHO
According to the WHO report, the Institut Pasteur in Dakar, Senegal, received two samples from patients from the southern Ashanti region of Ghana. Both the patients were unrelated and deceased. Before death, these patients reported symptoms such as fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea.
The laboratory analyzed the samples and their results were similar to the reports of the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, which confirmed that both the patients were infected with MVD. Both the patients were male, one patient was aged 26 years, and the other was 51 years of age. Both patients were admitted, almost at a similar time, to the same hospital and were provided with similar treatments.
WHO has been associated with a research team in the Ashanti region and Ghana’s health authorities. WHO supports them by boosting disease surveillance, tracing contacts, providing personal protective equipment, and educating them about the risks and dangers involved with the disease.
Under the current scenario, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, stated that the health authorities have efficiently responded to the possibility of an MVD outbreak. This swift response was necessary because MVD could transmit at a higher rate. As the Ghana government has announced the MVD outbreak, WHO continues to provide full support with resources to combat the situation.
Around 90 individuals have been identified with MVD and are being monitored. Previously, sporadic MVD outbreaks have been reported in Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Angola. WHO has also alerted the neighboring countries at a high risk of MVD outbreaks.
Researchers informed that many MVD patients can develop severe hemorrhagic symptoms within seven days of contracting the infection. Although there are no proper vaccines or medicines available for MVD treatment, rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids and treatments of specific symptoms improve the survival rate. At present, several potential treatments, such as immune and drug therapies and candidate vaccines, are being evaluated under phase 1 clinical trials.