Two suspected cases of Marburg virus disease reported in Ghana

Ghana has reported its first suspected cases of Marburg virus disease (MVD) after preliminary samples taken from two patients who died after showing symptoms tested positive for the viral hemorrhagic fever.

The samples were sent to the Institut Pasteur in Senegal, a World Health Organization (WHO) collaboration center for processing, before being officially confirmed as cases.

The patients, who were both from the southern Ashanti region but were not related, showed symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, nausea and vomiting.

They were taken to a district hospital in the Ashanti region, but later died.

“No new cases have been reported since the two samples were taken two weeks ago,” the Ghana Health Service said in a statement.

The agency said 34 people in contact with the cases were in quarantine.

The WHO is sending experts to support Ghana’s health authorities.

“Health authorities are on site to investigate the situation and prepare for a possible response to an outbreak,” said Francis Kasolo, WHO representative in Ghana.

“We are working closely with the country to ramp up detection, follow up contacts and stand ready to control the spread of the virus.”

If the cases are confirmed, this would be only the second outbreak of MVD in West Africa.

A single case was confirmed in Guinea last year.

It was the only case recorded during the outbreak, which the WHO declared passed after five weeks.

Close-up of Queensland Ambulance Service (QAS) paramedic putting on gloves
The WHO is sending experts to Ghana to prepare for a possible outbreak. ABC News: Chris Gillette

What is the Marburg virus?

It’s viral hemorrhagic fever in the same family as Ebola.

It is highly contagious and was first discovered in 1967 after outbreaks in Marburg and Frankfurt in Germany and Belgrade in Serbia.

The WHO says those outbreaks were linked to lab work with African green monkeys, which had been imported from Uganda.

But one type of fruit bat, Rousettus aegyptiacus, is believed to be the virus’s natural host.

“Initially, MVD infection in humans results from prolonged exposure to mines or caves inhabited by Rousettus bat colonies,” says a WHO fact sheet.

“The Marburg virus is transmitted to humans from fruit bats and spreads among humans through human-to-human transmission.”

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • a fever
  • headache
  • malaise
  • diarrhea
  • stomach ache
  • nausea
  • vomit
  • lethargy
  • muscle aches and pains
  • non-itchy rash
  • bloody stools
  • vomiting blood
  • bleeding from the nose, gums and vagina
  • spontaneous bleeding at venepuncture sites
  • inflammation of the testicles
  • confusion, irritability and aggression

The average facility rate for the virus is about 50 percent.

WHO data from past outbreaks shows death rates ranging between 24 and 88 percent, taking into account cases from different strains and treatments.

Most deaths in Marburg occur between eight and nine days after the onset of symptoms, according to the WHO, usually after the patient has suffered “severe blood loss” and goes into shock.

How does it spread?

Human-to-human transmission occurs through direct contact – through broken skin or mucous membranes – with blood, secretions or other bodily fluids from people infected with the virus.

It also spreads through contact with surfaces contaminated with these liquids.

The WHO says it can spread through contaminated clothing and bedding used by an MVD patient and burial ceremonies involving direct contact with the body of a deceased patient.

How is it treated?

The WHO says there is “no proven treatment available” for MVD, with no vaccine or approved antiviral treatments.

But a patient’s chances of survival can be improved by treating specific symptoms and rehydration through oral or intravenous fluids.

The WHO says that treatments with blood products, immunotherapies and drug therapies are being evaluated.

ABC with wires

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