The World Health Organization has reported the first case of Marburg virus disease in the West African country, Guinea.
Marburg disease is closely related to Ebola and, like COVID-19, is passed from animal hosts to humans.
The virus, which is carried by bats and has a fatality rate of up to 88 percent, was found in samples taken from a patient who died on August 2 in southern Gueckedou prefecture, the WHO announced late on Monday.
“The potential for the Marburg virus to spread far and wide means we need to stop it in its tracks,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa.
The discovery comes just two months after the WHO declared an end to Guinea’s second outbreak of Ebola, which started last year with a death toll of 12.
In Geneva, the WHO said it considered the threat “high” at the national and regional level, but “low” globally.
“We are working with the health authorities to implement a swift response that builds on Guinea’s experience and expertise in managing Ebola, which is transmitted similarly,” Moeti said.
The Guinean government has also confirmed the Marburg case in a statement released last week.
The Marburg virus is usually associated with exposure to caves or mines that house colonies of Rousettus bats. Once caught by a human, it is spread through contact with bodily fluids of infected people, or with contaminated surfaces and materials, according to an article by the WHO.
Guinea’s primary case was detected in a village in a forested region at the borders of Sierra Leone and Liberia. The man’s symptom was suspected to be dated back to July 25, the WHO said.
After being treated initially at a local clinic and tested for malaria, the patient died “in the community”, the WHO said. Post-mortem samples then tested negative for Ebola, but positive for Marburg.
Ten WHO experts, including epidemiologists and socio-anthropologists, are already in the field to support national health authorities.
Three family members of the deceased and a healthcare worker have been identified as high-risk close contacts and are being monitored, while investigations are underway to identify the source of the infection and any other possible contacts, the WHO said.
Previous outbreaks and sporadic cases have been reported in South Africa, Angola, Kenya, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
But this is the first time the virus has been detected in West Africa.
The disease begins suddenly, with a high fever, severe headache and discomfort.
Fatality rates have ranged from 24 percent to 88 percent in previous outbreaks, depending on the virus strain and case management, the WHO said.
Although there are no approved vaccines or antiviral treatments, oral or intravenous rehydration and treatment of specific symptoms improve survival rates, according to WHO.