Marburg Virus: How Worried Should You Be Of The Potentially Fatal Virus

Marburg virus disease is rare and has the capacity to cause outbreaks with high fatality rates. Read ahead to know more.

Tanya Srivastava
Written by: Tanya SrivastavaPublished at: Jul 29, 2022Updated at: Jul 29, 2022
Marburg Virus: How Worried Should You Be Of The Potentially Fatal Virus

Marburg virus is the causative agent of Marburg virus disease (MVD), a disease with a case fatality ratio as high as 88%. However, the fatality can be brought lower with good and timely patient care. Both Marburg and Ebola viruses are members of the Filoviridae family (filovirus). Although these are caused by different viruses, the two diseases are clinically similar on many grounds. Marburg virus disease is rare and has the capacity to cause outbreaks with high fatality rates.

Transmission of Marburg Virus

Initially, human MVD infections were a result of prolonged exposure to mines or caves. The virus is transmitted to people by fruit bats and can then spread from one human to another through body fluids, including contaminated clothing or surfaces, according to the World Health Organisation.

The first outbreak of Marburg Virus was recorded in 1967 in Germany after a staff worker at a laboratory in the town of Marburg became infected with the disease from monkeys. Outbreaks since then have mostly been detected either in eastern or southern Africa. 

Marburg spreads through human-to-human transmission via direct contact. This contact can be either through broken skin or mucous membranes with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people. It can also be transmitted from  surfaces and materials for example bedding or clothing which are contaminated with these fluids.

For the same reason, healthcare workers have frequently been infected with the ailments of this virus while treating patients with suspected or confirmed MVD. The close contact with the infectant tends to spread when the precautions are not strictly practiced. Transmission happens via contaminated injection equipment or through needle-stick that in turn leads to rapid deterioration, and, possibly, a higher fatality rate.

Symptoms of Marburg Virus

The incubation period of the Marburg virus disease varies anywhere from two to 21 days. The illness usually begins abruptly, with high fever, severe headache and malaise accompanied by muscle aches and pains. A few other common ailments that come clinging to the virus are severe diarrhoea, abdominal pain, cramping, and nausea. Most people also experience vomiting on the third day. Additionally, diarrhoea can persist for a week or in some cases 10 days.

Fatal Marburg Virus

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Diagnosis of Marburg Virus

To clinically distinguish MVD from other infectious diseases such as malaria, typhoid fever, shigellosis, meningitis and viral haemorrhagic fevers can be a little difficult. Confirmation that symptoms are caused by Marburg virus infection are made using either of the following diagnostic methods:

  • Antibody-capture enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA)
  • RT-PCR assay
  • Electron microscopy
  • Serum neutralization test
  • Virus isolation by cell culture
  • Antigen-capture detection

Unfortunately, there are no vaccines or antiviral treatments approved for MVD at the moment. However, supportive care including rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids  and treatment of specific symptoms, improves survival rate in people suffering from the virus.