Reports have surfaced today that a Ugandan health care worker died of Marburg hemorrhagic fever last week. Interestingly, the first reports of Marburg virus transmission actually occurred in a lab in the small town of Marburg, Germany where experimenters working with Ugandan grivets, a species of monkey, came down with the disease. Since this first case in 1967, outbreaks have generally been confined to Sub-Saharan Africa. The African fruit bat is the reservoir for Marburg; they do not show symptoms of the disease, but are able to transmit the virus to primates (including humans).
Though outbreaks have been rare, authorities are under high alert to prevent a possible outbreak given the fact that a health care worker in frequent contact with patients and other health care workers was infected. The gentlemen contracted Marburg while working at the Mengo Hospital in Uganda, and authorities have identified 80 people who were in contact with this man since he began displaying symptoms. These people have subsequently been put in quarantine for a period of 21 days – the incubation period of Marburg. So far, the brother of the infected worker has begun displaying Marburg-like symptoms, raising concerns about how many more people may have contracted the disease.
The possible spread of Marburg virus is especially concerning considering its similarities to Ebola. The two viruses actually come from the same virus family – filoviridae – and those infected with the virus have similar symptoms (e.g. fever, muscles pains, bleeding through body openings). Like Ebola, the mortality rate is high for the disease and there is no cure. Thus, early detection and containment is the best measure for preventing an outbreak.