Marburg: Expert Harps On Intensified Surveillance 

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Marburg Virus Disease

With the official confirmation of two cases of Marburg virus disease in Ghana, a public health expert, Dr. Gabriel Adakole, has harped on the importance of intensified surveillance to prevent an outbreak in Nigeria. 

Speaking in an interview with journalists yesterday in Abuja, Adakole explained that the clinical diagnosis of Marburg can be difficult with many of the symptoms similar to other infectious diseases such as malaria and typhoid fever while calling for intensify surveillance in the country.  

Adakole explained that Marburg is a highly infectious, viral, haemorrhagic fever with symptoms like diarrhoea, fever, nausea and vomiting, and belongs in the same family as Ebola. 

According to him, the disease is initially transmitted to people from fruit bats and spreads among humans through contact with the bodily fluids of infected persons. “The Marburg virus is a genetically unique zoonotic. RNA virus of the filovirus family. The six species of Ebola virus were the only other known members of the filovirus family.” 

He said that Ghana’s confirmation of the cases placed Nigeria and other neighbouring countries on high alert, as there were no approved vaccines or treatments.

The expert said that Marburg causes serious illness and can be lethal, with fatality rates from past outbreaks varying from 24 per cent to 88 per cent, depending on virus strain and quality of care among sufferers. 

According to him, once someone is infected, the virus can spread easily among humans through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected people such as blood, saliva or urine, as well as on surfaces and materials. 

“It begins suddenly and its symptoms are high fever, muscle pains, bleeding, severe headaches, diarrhoea and vomiting blood.

“There are no vaccines or treatments approved to treat the virus. Several are in early stages of development through supportive care like rehydration and the treatment of specific symptoms can improve outcomes,” he explained. 

Adakole said that close relatives and health workers were mostly vulnerable alongside patients, and bodies remain contagious at the burial when a person becomes affected. 

The expert said a non-itchy rash on the chest, back or stomach may appear on ‘day five’. 

He noted that, in fatal cases, death usually occurs between eight and nine days after the onset of the disease and is preceded by severe blood loss and haemorrhaging, and multi-organ failure.

“However, supportive care can improve survival rates such as rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids, maintaining oxygen levels, using drug therapies and treating specific symptoms as they arise,”’ he explained. 

He called on all relevant agencies to leverage available evidence such as the downwards of travel protocol from Ghana and other nearby countries. 

Adakole called on the government to be focused on surveillance, genomic sequencing and surge testing, adding that health workers should remain vigilant in “times like this”. 

Recall that the WHO regional director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, praised Ghana’s “swift response” but warned that “Marburg can easily get out of hand… without immediate and decisive action”.  

Moeti said that the WHO is supporting health officials in Ghana and has reached out to neighbouring high-risk countries and they “are on alert”.  

Meanwhile, the first cases of the virus were identified in Europe in 1967. Two large outbreaks in Marburg and Frankfurt in Germany, as well as Belgrade, Serbia, led to the initial recognition of the disease.  

At least, seven deaths were reported in that outbreak, with the first people infected having been exposed to Ugandan imported African green monkeys or their tissues while conducting lab research. 

Beyond West Africa, previous outbreaks and sporadic cases have been reported in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda. 

The virus killed more than 200 people in Angola in 2005, the deadliest outbreak on record according to the global health body. 

Racheal Abujah
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