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Deadly Marburg virus emerged in Ghana: resembles Ebola, no vaccine

Oh no, another virus rearing its head. So now in Ghana. The Marburg virus has been found in three regions of that country. It started with two infections at the end of June. Those people are now dead. But what kind of virus is it exactly?

1. What are the symptoms?

It often starts with a fever, muscle aches, or diarrhea. For many people who contract the Marburg virus, it is initially not clear that it is specifically that virus.

But secondly, the seriousness of the disease is clear. “Then organ failure can occur,” says Martin Grobusch, professor of tropical medicine at Amsterdam UMC. “Some patients start to bleed. About 50 percent of people who get very sick die.”

2. How can you contract the Marburg virus?

There is an animal known as the host of the Marburg virus. And that’s the bat, Grobusch told RTL Nieuws. “Bats can transmit it to humans in several ways.”

“First of all, if an infected bat touches you. In addition, it is probably also possible if you eat fruit that still has bat saliva on it. Or if you eat a bat that has not been prepared properly.”

A bat can infect a person. And once that has happened, an infected person can also transmit it to another human being. “That goes through direct contact with feces or bodily fluids of someone who is sick,” says Grobusch.

3. What is the difference between the Marburg virus and Ebola?

Ebola and the Marburg virus are hardly distinguishable from each other. In terms of symptoms, they are almost the same. Ebola is also a rare infectious disease that is often accompanied by bleeding in the body.

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Grobusch: “The two viruses are genetically close. They have the same hosts (bats, ed.) and come from the same region (West, Central and East Africa, ed.).”

Most people will know Ebola from the major outbreak of 2013-2016 in western Africa. Countries such as Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia were all badly affected. 28,000 people became infected, 12,000 of them did not survive.

In 2019 Congo was weighed down by Ebola:

“But there is a very important difference,” Grobusch says. “Over time, several vaccines have been developed that work well against Ebola. But against the Marburg virus, there is not one.”

4. Will there be another pandemic?

No vaccine available, that doesn’t sound good. Still, we don’t have to worry about another pandemic coming, Grobusch says. “For that you need an accessible way of transfer from person to person. And that is not the case with the Marburg virus, because then you really have to make contact with other people’s bodily fluids.”

And we are not (yet) talking about huge numbers of infections. In Ghana, two have been counted so far. They were registered a few weeks ago.

“With the Marburg virus, we have to take into account an incubation period of 21 days,” says Grobusch. “The two known infections were registered at the end of June. That was more than 21 days ago and yet, as far as is known, no new case has surfaced since then. That is hopeful, although it remains to be seen whether the outbreak will indeed remain limited. .”

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If it remains limited, according to Grobusch, this can be attributed, among other things, to the experience that authorities now have. “Countries are well prepared. These are the lessons learned from, for example, the Ebola epidemic and outbreaks of other diseases.”

5. What is the advice for people living in Ghana?

“One of the most important pieces of advice is: be careful when eating bushmeat,” says Grobusch. That is the meat that comes from hunting wild animals in tropical or warmer areas. Then think of bats.

Grobusch: “Do not take fruit that you find somewhere. And try to avoid contact with other people’s bodily fluids. Hand hygiene is also always important. But mouth caps are of no use. Since the Marburg virus spreads in a different way than, for example, corona.”

Should it happen that a Dutch person becomes infected, not all alarm bells will go off immediately. “There is always a risk that someone with a highly contagious disease will end up in hospital. Hospital employees always have that scenario in mind.”

“In the Netherlands, people pay close attention. Hospitals, doctors and the RIVM,” says Grobusch. “The situation is being monitored and hygiene measures are always observed. And if someone contracts the virus for his or her return trip to the Netherlands, they simply do not travel. So we can feel safe.”

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