November 13, 2017

Update on Marburg, Ebola’s sister virus in Uganda

Marburg virus has infected and killed three people in Uganda. “The Conversation” reports that “more than 100 people are now being monitored and the country’s health authorities are holding their breath, waiting for the 21-day incubation period of the virus to pass – hopefully, without further cases being reported”.

On average, half of those infected with the Marburg virus will die, however, mortality rates as high as 88% have previously been reported. Thankfully, Uganda has a good track record of handling outbreaks of viruses, including Marburg and its close cousin, Ebola. The latest Marburg outbreak, in the Kween district bordering Kenya, was declared when the first case was confirmed by laboratory tests. The patient subsequently died, but, unfortunately, she had been in contact with family members, including one who travelled to Kenya. It turned out that the patient (the so-called “index case”) was, in fact, not the first case in the current outbreak. For humans and other monkeys, filo-viruses like Marburg and Ebola viruses can kill. Filoviruses are highly infectious and spread by contact with bodily fluids, including blood. As with the Ebola virus, Marburg can also spread via sexual contact and can persist for a long time in humans.

Good news is: there is reason to believe Uganda will cope. The early and rapid response to this Marburg outbreak suggests that the same factors that hampered an effective response in West Africa during the beginning of the 2014 Ebola epidemic are not being repeated here.