The World Health Organisation has cofirmed one death in Guinea from Marburg virus, a highly infectious haemorrhagic fever similar to Ebola. It marks the first time that the deadly disease has been identified in West Africa.
There have been 12 major Marburg outbreaks since 1967, mostly in southern and eastern Africa. Guinea’s new case was first identified last week, just two months after the country was declared free of Ebola after a brief flare-up earlier this year that killed 12 people.
The patient, who has since died, first sought treatment at a local clinic before his condition rapidly deteriorated, the WHO said on Monday. Analysts at Guinea’s national haemorrhagic fever laboratory and the Institute Pasteur in Senegal later confirmed the Marburg diagnosis
“The potential for the Marburg virus to spread far and wide means we need to stop it in its tracks,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa. “We are working with the health authorities to implement a swift response that builds on Guinea’s past experience and expertise in managing Ebola, which is transmitted in a similar way.”
Efforts are under way to find the people who may have been in contact with the patient. As it is the first appeareance of the disease in the country, health authorities are launching public education and community mobilisation to raise awareness and galvanise support to help curb widespread infection.
An initial team of 10 WHO experts, including epidemiologists and socio-anthropologists, is investigating the case and supporting the national health authorities to escalate emergency response, including risk assessment, disease surveillance, community mobilisation, testing, clinical care, infection prevention as well as logistical support.
Cross-border surveillance is also being initiated to detect any cases, with neighbouring countries on alert, said WHO. The Ebola control systems in place in Guinea and in neighbouring countries are proving crucial to the emergency response to the Marburg virus.
Both the Marburg case and this year’s Ebola cases were detected in Guinea’s Gueckedou district, near the borders with Liberia and Ivory Coast. The first cases of the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic, the largest in history, also were from the same region in south-eastern Guinea’s forest region.
Marburg case fatality rates have varied from 24% to 88% in past outbreaks, depending on virus strain and case management, WHO said, adding that transmission occurred through contact with infected body fluids and tissue.
Marburg outbreaks start when an infected animal, such as a monkey or a fruit bat, passes the virus to a human. The virus then spreads from human to human by contact with an infected person’s body fluids. Symptoms include headache, vomiting blood, muscle pains and bleeding through various orifices.
Although there are no vaccines or antiviral treatments approved to treat the virus, supportive care – rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids – and treatment of specific symptoms, improves survival. A range of potential treatments, including blood products, immune therapies and drug therapies, is being evaluated.
In Africa, previous outbreaks and sporadic cases have been reported in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda.
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