3 People in Uganda Died From the Marburg Virus. What’s That?

3 minute read

A severe, highly fatal virus called Marburg has infected and killed three people in Uganda. While that’s a small number of infections, any cases of Marburg are cause for concern given the virus’ high fatality rates and similarities to the deadly Ebola virus. Here’s what you should know.

What is Marburg virus?

The Marburg virus got its name after two large outbreaks occurred in 1967 in Marburg and Frankfurt in Germany, and in Belgrade, Serbia. The disease is rare, and was last reported in Uganda in 2014 when one health worker was infected. Marburg comes from the same family of viruses as Ebola, and both of the viruses can cause large outbreaks. The fatality rate from Marburg can range from 24% to 88%. So far all the people who have been confirmed to have the virus in the recent outbreak have died. It’s believed that fruit bats are the natural hosts of the virus, and people pass it to one another through direct contact with bodily fluids.

What are Marburg virus symptoms?

Symptoms of the Marburg virus tend to appear between two to 21 days after a person is infected. People with the virus can experience high fevers, headaches, muscle pain, nausea and vomiting and diarrhea that can last for a week. The World Health Organization (WHO) says people may start to appear “ghost-like,” with features like extreme fatigue and lack of expression. In past cases, patients have also developed a rash.

What is happening in the new Marburg outbreak?

The WHO says three family members were infected with the virus in the Kween District of Eastern Uganda, and all three have died. One of the family members traveled to Kenya before they died, but so far there haven’t been any cases reported in Kenya. The WHO is helping both Uganda and Kenya with the response, which includes following up with anyone who had contact with people with Marburg. Though there are no reported cases in Kenya, the WHO says the country is preparing for the possibility just in case.

Read more: Bats Are the Number-One Carriers of Disease

Is there a vaccine for Marburg?

No, there is currently no vaccine for the Marburg virus, nor are there drugs to treat the infection. Similar to Ebola, health providers try to keep people with the virus hydrated through oral or intravenous fluids, and treat their symptoms.

What’s being done to contain the current outbreak?

The WHO says it is working with officials in both Uganda and Kenya. In a Nov. 4 update, the WHO noted some difficulties in its response efforts. Providing a safe burial for one of the people who died from the virus meant family and friends were not allowed to bathe and touch the body as they typically would. Another victim died in an isolation room where only health workers dressed in protective equipment were allowed in, which also did not sit well with locals. There’s also been some suggestion among community members that the cases are due to witchcraft. WHO said it is working to address these issues and build stronger local relationships.

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