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First Case Of Deadly Marburg Virus Disease Identified In West Africa


Tom Hale


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist


Colorized transmission electron micrograph of Marburg virus particles (blue) Image credit: NIAID (CC BY 2.0)

A case of Marburg virus disease, a highly infectious disease that causes hemorrhagic fever, has been identified in West Africa for the first time.

Health authorities in Guinea confirmed the case on Sunday after the virus was detected in a sample taken from a patient who has since died, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Outbreaks and sporadic cases of the disease have previously been seen in certain parts of eastern, central, and southern Africa, as well as Europe, but this is the first case documented in West Africa.


The Marburg virus is in the same family (Filoviridae) as the virus that causes Ebola. Rather unfortunately, this case was detected less than two months after Guinea declared the end of an Ebola outbreak that started in February this year. 

Marburg virus disease causes an array of symptoms that are similarly unpleasant to the ones seen with Ebola. The disease starts suddenly, usually with a high fever, severe headache, severe tiredness, and muscle aches. By day 3, people will start to experience severe watery diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. As this phase of the illness progresses, people are said to have a ghost-like appearance with deep-set eyes, expressionless faces, and extreme lethargy.

Between 5 and 7 days, fatal cases will start suffering from some form of bleeding from the nose, gums, and vagina, alongside blood in vomit and feces. The central nervous system will also start to become affected, with patients sometimes experiencing confusion and aggression. 

If the case is fatal, most people die around 8 or 9 days after they first experience symptoms. The average case fatality rate is around 50 percent, although it has varied from 24 percent to 88 percent in past outbreaks depending on virus strain and case management.


There are currently no vaccines or antiviral treatments approved for Marburg virus disease. However, early treatment and rehydration can significantly improve a patient’s chance of survival. 

Marburg virus was first described in 1967 after at least 32 people fell ill in the German cities of Marburg and Frankfurt, and Belgrade in Yugoslavia (now Serbia). All cases were traced back to laboratories in the three cities that had recently imported a shipment of infected African green monkeys from Uganda.

As this suggests, the virus can infect non-human primates too, but it’s thought the virus originated within Egyptian fruit bats (Rousettus aegyptiacus) that can be found in pockets across Africa and parts of the Middle East.

There are a few reasons why bats are one of the key sources of nasty viruses that can cause diseases in humans, including Nipah virus, Hendra virus, Ebola, rabies, and a bunch of coronaviruses. Primarily, it’s down to their super-charged immune system. To fuel their ability to fly, bats elevate their metabolic rate. The downside to this is tissue damage caused by the accumulation of reactive molecules, which require a strong immune system to clean up. This rock-solid immune system of bats creates an environment that allows fierce viruses to evolve. Once these hardy viruses manage to jump into another mammal species with a less robust immune system, it can prove devastating. This is most likely, albeit not certainly, how SARS-CoV-2 came into being.

 This Week in IFLScience

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