Health officials on alert as Ghana reports deadly Marburg virus cases

Two die in rare cases of highly infectious disease that kills almost 90 per cent of those it infects

A 9-year-old girl is taken to an ambulance after showing signs of infection in 2004. AP
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Emergency preparations are under way in Ghana for a potential outbreak of the deadly Marburg disease after two people were reported to have died from infection.

Similar to Ebola, the highly contagious virus kills about 88 per cent of people it infects, causing uncontrollable bleeding from the eyes and nose, a breakdown of the central nervous system and death in about nine days.

Health officials warned the pathogen could be the next public threat, with the World Health Organisation describing it as “epidemic-prone,” meaning it can spread easily between people if not prevented.

Two recorded cases in Accra were unrelated, meaning one did not infect the other. The people affected were taken to a district hospital in the Ashanti region after showing symptoms of diarrhoea, fever, nausea and vomiting.

Authorities are escalating plans to prepare for a possible outbreak on a wider scale, once samples from the two patients are further analysed at the Institut Pasteur in Senegal, a WHO Collaborating Centre.

“The health authorities are on the ground investigating the situation and preparing for a possible outbreak response,” said Dr Francis Kasolo, WHO's representative in Ghana, in a statement on its website.

“We are working closely with the country to ramp up detection, track contacts, be ready to control the spread of the virus.”

The first recorded cases of the virus occurred simultaneously in Marburg and Frankfurt in Germany, and in Belgrade, in 1967.

They were associated with laboratory work using African green monkeys imported from Uganda.

Outbreaks have since been reported in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya and Uganda.

A further case of Marburg was recorded in South Africa in a person with recent travel history to Zimbabwe.

Cases remain rare. In the past 40 years, international travel has taken the disease from Africa to Europe only twice, with the largest known outbreak in Angola in 2004, when more than 250 people were infected.

Human infection usually occurs following prolonged exposure to caves or mines inhabited by colonies of the Rousettus bat.

Transmission spreads through humans via direct contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and via surfaces and materials such as contaminated clothing or bedding.

Symptoms usually appear quickly, with high fever, severe headache, muscle aches, stomach cramps nausea and vomiting by day three.

Patients often take on a ghostlike appearance with drawn features and an expressionless face before spontaneous bleeding occurs.

While there is no proven treatment available, a range of potential treatments including blood products, immune therapies and drug therapies are currently being evaluated.

Updated: July 08, 2022, 12:11 PM