WHO Confirms First Two Cases of Deadly Marburg Virus in Ghana

Both the patients died in less than 48 hours of hospital admission. There are no active cases in Ghana at the moment.

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New Delhi: Ghana has confirmed that it has identified two persons who were infected by the Marburg virus, which causes a deadly disease, and that both of them have died. In a press statement issued on July 14, the World Health Organisation (WHO) also confirmed the development.

According to the WHO statement, the first patient was of a 26-year-old male who checked into a hospital on June 26, 2022 and died on the next day. The second patient was a 51 -year-old male who reported to the hospital on June 28 and died on the same day.

The two patients, who were from the southern Ashanti region of Ghana, had symptoms like diarrhoea, fever, nausea and vomiting, before dying in hospital.

So far, only two cases of the Marburg virus disease were reported and both of them have died. There are no active cases in Ghana at the moment, but 90 contacts of the two deceased patients are being monitored. This is the first outbreak of the disease in Ghana.

The WHO describes the Marburg virus disease as a “highly virulent” disease that causes viral haemorrhagic fever. The disease belongs to the same family as Ebola. Both diseases have a high case fatality rate (CFR). In previous outbreaks of the Marburg virus disease, the CFR ranged from 24% to 88%.

In a 2005 outbreak in Angola, 329 out of 375 people who tested positive died. The table below provides a summary of past outbreaks of the disease.

The last outbreak occurred in Guinea from August 3, 2021 to September 16, 2021. Only one case was reported. The disease was first detected in Marburg and Frankfurt in Germany and in Belgrade and Serbia in 1967.

Disease profile and prevention

The incubation period (the time between infection and the onset of the disease) for Marburg varies by large margins. It ranges from 2-21 days. The period of 21 days for incubation is considered a fairly long one because till the disease manifests, the case may go unattended. And, thus the infected person may not isolate and lead to the infection spreading.

The disease is also zoonotic and is transferred to people from bats. The human-to-human transmission may take place through direct contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people. According to the WHO, there have also been instances of people getting infected after coming into contact with surfaces and materials (like bedding and clothing) contaminated with these fluids.

“Health-care workers have frequently been infected while treating patients with suspected or confirmed MVD. This has occurred through close contact with patients when infection control precautions are not strictly practiced,” the WHO said.

The disease begins with symptoms such as fever, severe headache and general discomfort and uneasiness. The signs of loss of blood (haemorrhage) can start within seven days.

Currently, there is no approved vaccine to prevent the disease. There are no drugs with proven efficacy in clinical trials to treat the disease. But, according to the WHO, two monoclonal antibodies – those made in a lab, as against those naturally produced – are being tested.

Two drugs – Remdesivir and Favipiravir – which have been repurposed for the Ebola disease are also being used under the “compassionate use” clause to treat Marburg disease. This clause is invoked for a drug to be used in treating a disease for which it has no prior approval. On “compassionate” grounds and in the absence of any other drug, it can be used by treating clinicians. Otherwise, supportive treatment to manage the symptoms of the disease is prescribed.