The virus starts with a headache, flulike symptoms, and then spreads to hemorrhaging and eventually death for many who catch it. Sound familiar? No, it is not Ebola, it is its sister virus, Marburg hemorrhagic fever, and it is the latest deadly disease to return and kill people in Africa.
A 30-year-old man who was a hospital X-ray technician died last week in Uganda from Marburg. Unfortunately, he felt ill for several days and did not want to be treated at the health center where he was then working. So, he traveled back to his hometown hospital before seeking treatment.
This exposed workers at both locations and people in both cities. Approximately 80 people, 60 of whom are health care workers, with whom he came in contact while contagious, are now in quarantine to avoid a major outbreak of the often-fatal disease. Reportedly his brother, one of those under quarantine, is already showing symptoms.
Uganda has seen other outbreaks of both Marburg and Ebola through the years and its health ministry jumped on the situation. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni used his Twitter account to confirm the outbreak. In his tweet that the Ministry of Health did confirm a case of Marburg, Museveni encouraged people to “Stay calm but vigilant.” His missive went on to remind his people to cooperate with health workers and avoid shaking hands.”
Marburg and Ebola are two of the five types in a family of filo viruses. The two diseases are very similar with joint and muscle pains, sudden onset of fever, vomiting blood and eventually hemorrhaging. They have similar incubation periods of two to 21 days. Of the two, Marburg has shown slightly lower fatality rates, but is still deadly.
The discovery of, and first deaths from, Marburg actually preceded Ebola. The latter first struck near the Ebola River in the Congo in 1976 and has resulted in several outbreaks in Africa, including the current epidemic in West Africa. The former was discovered in 1967 in Marburg, Germany, when 31workers from the same laboratory were hospitalized with a severe, unidentified disease, which ultimately killed 7 of the lab staff. Since then, there have been several outbreaks of Marburg in parts of Africa, but also Frankfurt, Germany, and Belgrade, Serbia. None have been as large or as severe as Ebola outbreaks.
The origin of the Marburg outbreak was found to be African monkeys being used in Germany for polio vaccine research. The monkeys came from Uganda, where the current Marburg case and several other outbreaks of both Marburg and Ebola have occurred. The Marburg virus exhibited a unique morphology, which eventually lead to the identification of the five strains, including Ebola, in the highly toxic family. It is believed that the unusual from viruses come from fruit bats.
The efforts in the U.S. to develop a vaccine or a treatment for Ebola have also focused on Marburg. Two labs have developed so-called RNA-interfering drugs that have proven to be effective in protecting primates from Marburg during testing.
By Dyanne Weiss