6 Crucial Facts About the Dreaded Marburg Virus

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Marburg Virus Disease (MVD) is a lethal infection caused by the Marburg virus. Though rare, the Marburg virus can kill between 24% to 88% of infected individuals depending on the success of treatment. 

There has been a total of 19 outbreaks of Marburg virus disease since it was first discovered in 1967 in Germany and Yugoslavia, present-day Serbia.

Here are 6 crucial facts about the dreaded Marburg virus disease.

1. Marburg virus can hide in semen even after recovering from the disease. 

Semen obtained from survivors of Marburg virus disease may test positive for the virus because it can persist in the fluid for even up to a year after infection. Cases of sexual transmission of the virus through semen have been recorded in the past. As a result, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that one must test negative for the virus on two or more occasions following a resolution of the infection before resuming sexual activity. Aside from semen, the Marburg virus has also been found to remain inside the eye, breast milk among lactating mothers, and amniotic fluid & foetus in pregnant women long after one has been declared to be free of the disease.

2. The 2005 Angola outbreak was the worst that has ever been recorded.

Between October 2004 and July 2005, a fatal outbreak of Marburg virus disease occurred in the Uige province of Angola, a country located in the Southern part of Africa. Out of the 374 cases that were reported, 329 resulted in death representing an 88% death rate. The Angola outbreak remains the worst outbreak that has ever been recorded in the world.

3. Marburg virus originally resides in the African fruit bats.

African fruit bats scientifically known as Rousettus aegyptiacus are considered the natural host of the Marburg virus. The disease is however not evident in the fruit bats. Humans can contract the disease by being in contact with fruit bats or their urine and secretions in caves or other habitats.

4. It can be problematic to distinguish Marburg virus disease from other ailments based on symptoms.

Symptoms of Marburg virus disease especially in the early stages may be difficult to distinguish from those of other illnesses such as malaria, Lassa fever, or Ebola. One may start to manifest signs between 2 to 21 days from the day the virus entered the body. Initial symptoms of Marburg virus disease include fever, chills, headache, and muscle pains. Abdominal cramping, severe diarrhoea, and vomiting follow as the disease worsens. The more definitive symptom of bleeding from multiple body openings like the vagina, nose, mouth, and anus occurs about 5 to 7 days later.

5. Marburg virus spreads through contact with virtually all body fluids.

The Spread of Marburg virus disease at the human-to-human level is mainly through contact with the blood or body fluids of sick people or those who have died from the illness and their belongings. Body fluids that have been implicated include sweat, urine, saliva, faeces, vomit, breast milk, amniotic fluid, and semen.

6. There is no known cure for Marburg virus disease.

No vaccines or treatments have been approved for the management and prevention of Marburg virus disease. Sick people are usually offered symptomatic management until the illness resolves.

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