Marburg Virus: Defined

 

Overview

The Marburg virus can cause Marburg virus disease (formerly known as Marburg hemorrhagic fever). It is an often-fatal virus first discovered in Marburg, Germany in 1967.

Outbreaks of the virus are typically sporadic and most often occur in Africa. Patients can only contract the virus if they encounter the blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the fatality rate for Marburg virus disease is between 23 and 90 percent.

The Marburg virus is from the same family of viruses as Ebola and has similar symptoms. Those include fever, headache, diarrhea and unexplained bleeding.

Symptoms

Patients infected with Marburg virus typically begin to show symptoms between five and 10 days after exposure.

Early symptoms come on quickly and can include fever, chills, headache and muscle pain.

A few days after symptoms begin to show, those symptoms usually become more serious. About five days into the illness, patients often develop a red, bumpy rash on the stomach or back, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and stomach pain.

Symptoms tend to become more serious as the disease advances. Later symptoms include inflammation of the pancreas, pronounced weight loss, confusion, shock, liver failure and unexplained bleeding.

Diagnosis

Marburg virus disease can be difficult to diagnose. That’s because it shares many early symptoms with much more common diseases like malaria.

But if doctors do suspect that a patient has been infected with the Marburg virus, they will likely place the patient in isolation to prevent the disease from spreading.

Once the patient is isolated, doctors will take samples of blood or other bodily fluids to perform lab testing at special medical facilities to confirm or rule out the presence of Marburg.

Treatments

While some experimental treatments for Marburg virus disease have undergone testing in animals, no treatment for the virus itself is currently approved for use.

However, doctors treat the symptoms of the virus to keep patients stable as their bodies fight the disease. They do this by making sure patients have enough fluids, blood and oxygen while they are in the hospital.

Doctors will also look out for and treat any other infections that could make the patient’s fight against the Marburg virus more difficult.

Causes

Marburg virus is thought to come from fruit bats and primates like chimpanzees. The virus is not airborne, meaning it can only be transferred through the blood, tissues or body fluids of a person infected with the virus.

After a patient is infected with the virus, symptoms usually begin after five to 10 days. It is unclear whether the virus is contagious when patients are not displaying symptoms.

Living With

Marburg virus has popped up sporadically — mostly in Africa — since it was discovered in 1967. Although it is a dangerous and deadly virus, it is also relatively rare.

The fatality rate for Marburg virus disease can range from as low as 23 percent to as high as 90 percent. As with any viral infection, earlier treatment typically improves the patient’s chance of survival.

Getting Help

People who suspect they have been infected with the Marburg virus — particularly those who have recently visited Africa — should seek immediate medical care.

Marburg is infectious. Those who may be infected should call health authorities for directions on how to proceed without potentially spreading the virus.

Related Information

Outbreaks of  the Marburg virus have often been contained with relatively few deaths. Uganda has successfully stopped several outbreaks in the last few decades, reports The Washington Post.

A massive outbreak of Marburg is possible but very unlikely, according to The Washington Post. Outbreaks that are caught early and properly controlled are relatively easy to stop in their tracks.

References

World Health Organization, “Marburg virus disease”
http://www.who.int/csr/disease/marburg/en/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Marburg hemorrhagic fever (Marburg HF)”
http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/marburg/
Washington Post, “What is Marburg, the Ebola-like virus that killed a health-care worker in Uganda?”
http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2014/10/06/what-is-marburg-the-ebola-like-virus-that-killed-a-health-care-worker-in-uganda/