Health authorities in Equatorial Guinea detected the west African country’s first cases of the rare but highly-infectious Marburg virus, the World Health Organization confirmed on Monday, months after another outbreak in Ghana, as experts work to contain an outbreak of the deadly virus.
The WHO confirmed the virus had spread to the country of 1.6 million people on Africa’s Atlantic coast after receiving preliminary results of a test from the country’s Kie Ntem province, where nine people had died last week of a viral fever.
It comes after officials quarantined more than 200 residents and restricted residents’ movement last week following a series of deaths stemming from hemorrhagic fever.
Marburg—a virus in the same family as Ebola, which is typically spread by fruit bats and can spread from human-to-human through direct contact with bodily fluids—is highly virulent, leading to hemorrhagic fever within a week, according to WHO Africa Regional Director Matshidiso Moeti.
In addition to the nine deaths recorded in Equatorial Guinea, officials in the country also recorded 16 suspected cases of the virus, with symptoms including fatigue, fever, diarrhea and “blood-stained vomit.”
The WHO said it has deployed emergency health workers to help control the outbreak, with teams of health care workers conducting contact tracing to determine isolation policies.
The organization also announced on Monday it plans to convene an “urgent meeting” on Tuesday to address the outbreak.
88%. That’s the fatality rate of the Marburg virus, according to the WHO. By comparison, the death rate from Covid-19 in the U.S. is 1.1%, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.
There are no approved vaccines or antiviral treatments against Marburg, though rehydration, including by intravenous fluids, can boost survival rates, according to the WHO. Detecting the outbreak in Equatorial Guinea has become complicated, however, because symptoms, including fever, chills, headache and muscle weakness, often appear to be similar to those of other infectious diseases, including malaria and typhoid fever or viral fevers like Ebola, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Marburg was first detected in 1967 in Germany and the former Yugoslavia, with 31 cases—and seven deaths—primarily linked to lab monkeys. Small outbreaks were detected in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s in South Africa, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which recorded 154 cases and 128 deaths, according to the CDC. Another 252 people tested positive for the virus in Angola in 2004, with 227 of them dying of the contagious virus. Last June, health officials in Ghanaadvised people to avoid caves and thoroughly cook meat after they detected three more positive cases, including two deaths.
In a promising sign, a vaccine being developed by researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases showed a “long-lasting” immunity and “no serious adverse events” among humans in a clinical trial, according to a paper published late last month in the scientific journal The Lancet—though the vaccine is still in its trial phase, with further trials planned in Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and the U.S.
By Brian Bushard, Forbes Staff