Marburg: What you need to know about the deadly virus seen in Ghana

A rare virus that can kill up to 9 out of 10 people who contract it, has been reported in Ghana this week.

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The Marburg virus killed two people in the Western African country, according to the World Health Organization.

“Health authorities have responded swiftly, getting a head start preparing for a possible outbreak. This is good because without immediate and decisive action, Marburg can easily get out of hand,” WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said.

Fatality rates from the disease can reach nearly 90%, according to the WHO.

Here’s what we know about Marburg and whether it is likely to spread beyond Ghana.

What is Marburg?

Marburg is a rare disease, but it is highly infectious. It is in the same family as Ebola.

How do you catch it?

Marburg is believed to be transmitted to people from fruit bats. It spreads through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected people, surfaces and materials.

What are the symptoms?

The onset of symptoms begins quickly, with sudden high fever, severe headache and fatigue. Many patients develop severe hemorrhagic (bleeding) incidents within seven days and have muscle aches and cramping pain.

Around day five, a non-itchy rash on the chest, back or stomach may occur, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Clinical diagnosis of Marburg “can be difficult,” the agency said.

Is there a cure?

There is no vaccine for Marburg, nor are there antiviral treatments approved to treat the virus. However, according to the WHO, supportive care and treatment of specific symptoms have been shown to improve survival rates.

How deadly is Marburg?

The WHO has recorded mortality rates between 24% and 88% in separate outbreaks of the virus.

Will it spread to other countries?

This is the first time Marburg has been seen in Ghana. According to the WHO, the first reported case in the region was in Guinea last year.

The first cases of the virus were identified in Europe in 1967. Those cases were linked to exposure to research monkeys.

Cases of Marburg have been reported elsewhere in Africa, with the largest outbreak in Angola in 2005. Around 200 people died in that outbreak. It is not believed to be native to other continents.