Infectious and deadly Marburg virus detected in Ghana for the first time
A statement from the World Health Organization (WHO) has announced the discovery of two potential cases of Marburg Virus Disease (MBV) in Ghana. Pending further lab work, they could be the first cases of this highly infectious disease ever found in the West African country.
The Marburg virus is a member of the Filoviridae family of virus. Similar to the Ebola virus, infection with Marburg results in severe haemorrhagic fever with fatality rates ranging from 20 to 80 percent.
According to the WHO, the two potential new cases of MBV came from the southern Ashanti region of Ghana. The subjects were taken to a local hospital in the region with symptoms including diarrhoea, fever, nausea and vomiting.
The two patients were unrelated and subsequently died from their illness. A preliminary analysis of samples taken from the patients delivered positive results for the Marburg virus. Standard WHO procedure is to now send those samples to a central WHO facility in Senegal for confirmation.
Francis Kasolo, a WHO doctor in Ghana, said contact tracing has commenced and an outbreak response is being prepared.
“The health authorities are on the ground investigating the situation and preparing for a possible outbreak response,” Kasolo said. “We are working closely with the country to ramp up detection, track contacts, be ready to control the spread of the virus.”
The Marburg virus has only been detected in West Africa on one occasion prior to this. In late 2021, a farmer in Guinea died from an infection, however, no further cases were detected following close WHO surveillance for several months.
Since first appearing in the German town of Marburg in 1967, there have been little more than a dozen outbreaks of this deadly infection. The worst outbreak took place in 2004/05 in Angola. By the time the outbreak was brought under control, 252 people had been infected and 90 percent ultimately died.
Marburg virus is less understood than its more well-known cousin Ebola, however the two viruses share similar traits. Infection occurs through bodily fluids and incubation can span anywhere from five to 21 days. Severe haemorrhagic signs appear seven days after symptoms arise and there are currently no established treatments, vaccines, or antivirals.
Global vaccine charity Gavi last year flagged Marburg as one of several viruses that could potentially cause the next global pandemic. Despite it not being transmitted through aerosols, Gavi noted its long incubation time means it could quickly spread with increased global travel.
“As outbreaks in Europe and the US have already shown, increasing globalization and international travel mean that the risk for global spread is high, especially when the incubation period could be up to three weeks,” Gavi explained. “This could be disastrous given its high death rate.”