What You Need To Know About The Highly Infectious Marburg Virus

On Monday, Ghana’s Ministry of Health officially confirmed two cases of the Marburg virus after two people who later died tested positive for the virus in the first week of the month.

As expected, the recent detection has driven speculations on if the virus originates from Africa and how high or low its fatality rate is. Here are a few things we gathered about the Marburg virus and how to protect yourself and your family from it.

First discovered in Germany in 1967, the Marburg virus caused an outbreak that killed at least seven people.

Beyond Europe, a few cases of the virus has been reported in Africa. For instance, the virus killed more than 200 people in Angola in 2005, the deadliest outbreak on record according to the global health body. Sporadic cases have also been reported in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda.

How Dangerous Is The Marburg Disease?

Marburg is a disease with a case fatality ratio of up to 88% but can be much lower with good patient care. Known to share similar symptoms as the Ebola virus ( both members of the Filoviridae family), the Marburg can be transmitted by exposure to species of fruit bats or via body fluids through unprotected sex and broken skin.

The Marburg disease is often very severe, with symptoms including headache, fever, muscle pains, vomiting blood and bleeding. While doctors say there is no known cure, they advise taking water and treating specific symptoms could improve a patient’s chances of survival.

The incubation period (interval from infection to onset of symptoms) varies from 2 to 21 days. Illness caused by the Marburg virus begins abruptly, with high fever, severe headache and severe malaise. Severe watery diarrhoea, abdominal pain and cramping, nausea and vomiting can begin on the third day.

Many patients develop severe haemorrhagic manifestations between 5 and 7 days, and fatal cases usually have some form of bleeding, often from multiple areas. Fresh blood in faeces is often accompanied by bleeding from the nose, gums, and vagina.

In fatal cases, death may occur between 8 and 9 days after symptom onset, usually preceded by severe blood loss and shock.

On average, the virus kills half those infected, the WHO says, but the most harmful strains have killed up to 88%.


Community engagement is one key to successfully controlling the spread of the disease. Also raising awareness of the risk of the Marburg infection and protective measures that individuals can take is an effective way to reduce human transmission.

Patsy Nwogu

Reporting on data-driven featured stories and investigations.

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