Facts and Questions about Marburg Virus Disease
Marburg virus disease (MVD) is caused by the Marburg virus, a form of hemorrhagic fever virus of the Filoviridae family of viruses and a member of the species Marburg Marburgvirus, genus Marburgvirus. The virus is extremely dangerous.
The average MVD case fatality rate is around 50%. Case fatality rates have varied from 24% to 88% in past outbreaks depending on virus strain and case management. Marburg virus disease was initially detected in 1967 after simultaneous outbreaks in Marburg and Frankfurt in Germany, and in Belgrade, Serbia.
Early supportive care with rehydration, and symptomatic treatment improves survival. There is as yet no licensed treatment proven to neutralize the virus, but a range of blood products, immune therapies and drug therapies are currently under development.
Rousettus aegyptiacus, fruit bats of the Pteropodid family, are natural hosts of Marburg virus. The Marburg virus is transmitted to people from fruit bats and spreads among humans through human-to-human transmission. Hence community engagement is key to successfully controlling outbreaks.
Marburg spreads through human-to-human transmission via direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials (e.g., bedding, clothing) contaminated with these fluids.
Burial ceremonies that involve direct contact with the body of the deceased can also contribute in the transmission of Marburg.
People remain infectious if their blood contains the virus.
Symptoms of Marburg virus disease
The incubation period (interval from infection to onset of symptoms) varies from 2 to 21 days.
Illness caused by Marburg virus begins, with high fever, severe headache, severe malaise and muscle aches. Severe watery diarrhoea, abdominal pain and cramping, nausea and vomiting can begin on the third day. Diarrhoea can persist for a week. The appearance of patients at this phase has been described as showing “ghost-like” drawn features, deep-set eyes, expressionless faces, and extreme lethargy.
Many patients develop severe haemorrhagic manifestations between 5 and 7 days, and fatal cases usually have some form of bleeding, often from multiple areas. Fresh blood in vomitus and faeces is often accompanied by bleeding from the nose, gums, and vagina. Spontaneous bleeding at venepuncture sites (where intravenous access is obtained to give fluids or obtain blood samples) can be particularly troublesome. During the severe phase of illness, patients have sustained high fevers. Involvement of the central nervous system can result in confusion, irritability, and aggression. Orchitis (inflammation of one or both testicles) has been reported occasionally in the late phase of disease (15 days).
In fatal cases, death occurs most often between 8 and 9 days after symptom onset, usually preceded by severe blood loss and shock.
Prevention and control
Good outbreak control relies on using a range of interventions, namely case management, surveillance and contact tracing, a good laboratory service, safe and dignified burials, and social mobilization. Community engagement is key to successfully controlling outbreaks. Raising awareness of risk factors for Marburg infection and protective measures that individuals can take is an effective way to reduce human transmission.
Risk reduction messaging should focus on several factors:
- Reducing the risk of bat-to-human transmission arising from prolonged exposure to mines or caves inhabited by fruit bat colonies. During work or research activities or tourist visits in mines or caves inhabited by fruit bat colonies, people should wear gloves and other appropriate protective clothing (including masks). During outbreaks all animal products (blood and meat) should be thoroughly cooked before consumption.
- Reducing the risk of human-to-human transmission in the community arising from direct or close contact with infected patients, particularly with their body fluids. Gloves and appropriate personal protective equipment should be worn when taking care of ill patients at home. Regular hand washing should be performed after visiting sick relatives and patients
- Communities affected by Marburg should make efforts to ensure that the population is well informed, both about the nature of the disease itself and about necessary outbreak containment measures.
- Outbreak containment measures include prompt, safe and dignified burial of the deceased, identifying people who may have been in contact with someone infected with Marburg and monitoring their health for 21 days, separating the healthy from the sick to prevent further spread and providing care to confirmed patient and maintaining good hygiene and a clean environment need to be observed.
- Reducing the risk of possible sexual transmission. Based on further analysis of ongoing research, WHO recommends that male survivors of Marburg virus disease practice safer sex and hygiene for 12 months from onset of symptoms or until their semen twice tests negative for Marburg virus. Contact with body fluids should be avoided and washing with soap and water is recommended. WHO does not recommend isolation of male or female convalescent patients whose blood has been tested negative for Marburg virus.