What to know about the latest Marburg virus outbreak in Equatorial Guinea
Posted Feb 27, 2023 11:05 am ET
Canada is advising travelers to avoid non-essential travel to a specific province in Equatorial Guinea, which is currently experiencing an outbreak of the infectious Marburg virus.
Equatorial Guinea has placed more than 200 people in quarantine and restricted movement in its province of Kie-Ntem, where the hemorrhagic fever known as Marburg disease was first detected earlier this month.
As of February 21, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported cases of nine people, including one confirmed, four probable and four suspects, all of whom have died.
Over the weekend, Spain reported its first case of Marburg’s disease in a man who was recently in Equatorial Guinea. Cameroon, which lies on the northern border of Equatorial Guinea, has also reported two suspected cases.
“It’s not uncommon that a week or two later we see more cases emerging and emerging,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease expert at Toronto’s University Health Network, told CTV’s Your Morning on Monday.
“But at the same time, of course, you have public health teams trying to quell that, identifying cases, supporting patients and of course supporting close contacts, letting people know what to do and where to go if they think that they have a suspected case.”
WHAT IS THE MARBURG VIRUS?
Marburg virus causes Marburg virus disease, formerly known as Marburg hemorrhagic fever, WHO says.
The disease is named after Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany, and Belgrade, Serbia, where it was first discovered in 1967.
The WHO says initial human infection occurs through prolonged exposure to mines or burrows inhabited by Rousettus bat colonies.
From there, the virus can spread between people through direct contact with the blood or other bodily fluids of those infected, as well as contaminated surfaces and materials.
Funeral ceremonies, where people come into direct contact with the body of the deceased, can also spread the virus.
WHO says all nine of those who died in Equatorial Guinea either had contact with a relative with the same symptoms or attended the funeral of someone with symptoms similar to Marburg disease.
HOW SERIOUS IS IT?
Although they are two different viruses, Marburg belongs to the same family as Ebola.
According to the WHO, symptoms can begin between two and 21 days after infection and usually come on quickly with a high fever, severe headache and malaise.
Other symptoms include muscle aches and pains, followed by severe diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramps, nausea, and vomiting by day 3.
Heavy bleeding, or bleeding from damaged blood vessels, occurs between the fifth and seventh day in many patients, with death most commonly occurring between eight and nine days after the onset of symptoms.
The disease’s average mortality rate is about 50 percent, but the WHO says mortality in previous outbreaks has ranged from the low 20s to over 88 percent, as was the case with an outbreak in Angola in 2005 that killed 329 people came to life.
Most of the outbreaks reported by WHO since 1967 have resulted in seven or fewer deaths.
Ghana last declared the end of its outbreak in Marburg in September, after it had been confirmed the previous July. A total of three cases were confirmed, two of which were fatal.
There are no vaccines or antiviral treatments approved for Marburg disease, but the WHO says that oral or intravenous rehydration and treating certain symptoms can improve a person’s chances of survival.
HOW COULD THIS AFFECT CANADA?
The federal government is advising Canadians to avoid non-essential travel to Equatorial Guinea’s Kie-Ntem province due to the local movement restrictions put in place to stem the spread of the Marburg virus.
The federal government announced that the border between Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon was also closed.
However, the federal travel advisory adds that as long as precautionary measures are taken, the risk of contracting the Marburg virus is low.
“If we take a snapshot right now, the risk is of course extremely low,” said Bogoch. “This is really a regional issue and we should help and support our friends and neighbors around the world to quell this as this is obviously the right thing to do and will also prevent further spread.”
As seen during the 2014 Ebola outbreak — which lasted years, spanned multiple countries and killed thousands of people — Bogoch warns that without early intervention, the disease can easily spread.
“It’s so important obviously doing the right thing, helping the people on the ground, supporting the teams on the ground, but it’s also having a very positive impact and helping to protect the rest of the region and the rest of the world,” he said he.
With files from Reuters
HOW SERIOUS IS IT?
While two different viruses, Marburg belongs to the same family as Ebola.
Symptoms can start between two and 21 days after infection, the WHO says, and usually come fast with a high fever, severe headache and discomfort.
Other symptoms include muscle aches and pain, followed by severe diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramping, nausea and vomiting by day 3.
Severe hemorrhage or bleeding from damaged blood vessels occurs in many patients between the fifth and seventh days, with death occurring most often between eight and nine days after symptoms start.
The average fatality rate of the disease is approximately 50 per cent, but the WHO says mortality in past outbreaks has varied between the low 20s and upward of 88 per cent, as was the case during a 2005 outbreak in Angola that killed 329 people.
Most of the outbreaks reported by the WHO since 1967 have resulted in seven or fewer deaths.
Ghana most recently declared the end to its Marburg outbreak in September, after it was confirmed the previous July. Three cases were confirmed in total, of which two were fatal.
There are no vaccines or antiviral treatments approved for Marburg disease, but the WHO says rehydration, orally or intravenously, and treatment of specific symptoms can improve a person's chances of survival.
HOW COULD THIS AFFECT CANADA?
The federal government is advising Canadians to avoid non-essential travel to Kie-Ntem province in Equatorial Guinea due to the local restrictions on movement put in place to control the spread of the Marburg virus.
The border between Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon is also closed, the federal government says.
But the federal travel advisory adds that, as long as precautions are taken, the risk of contracting Marburg virus is low.
"If we take a snapshot right this minute, the risk of course is extremely low," Bogoch said. "This is really a regional issue and we should be helping and supporting our friends and neighbours around the world to quell this because obviously it's the right thing to do and it also prevents further spread."
As was seen during the 2014 Ebola outbreak — which lasted years, spanned multiple countries and killed thousands of people — Bogoch cautions the disease can spread easily without early intervention.
"It's so important to obviously do the right thing, help people locally, support the teams locally, but also it has very positive knock-on effects and helps protect the rest of the region and the rest of the world," he said.
With files from Reuters-->