By Olive Murakirwa

The World Health Organization (WHO) convened a conference that began on February 14 at which it announced stepped up efforts to control an outbreak of the Marburg virus disease, which had already killed nine people in Equatorial Guinea.  The meeting was aimed at coordinating international efforts to accelerate the development of vaccines against the Marburg virus. Among the experts at the meeting were chemists and researchers. 

Guinean authorities have confirmed that the Marburg virus outbreak has arrived through the western province of Kie Ntem and is spreading very quickly, just like Ebola. The disease evokes symptoms similar to those of Ebola, but differences include fever, weakness, nosebleeds, joint pain, and numbness. 

George Ameh, WHO’s country representative in Equatorial Guinea, said authorities have increased efforts to control the epidemic, and contact tracing is a top strategy. Teams that formed for the COVID-19 pandemic to help with contact tracing were quickly retrofitted. 

The Marburg virus fatality rate is 88%, WHO announced, and there is no preventative vaccine. Like Ebola, avoiding saliva, blood, vomit, urine, and other bodily fluids of an Marburg-infected patient is key to remaining healthy.  In Equatorial Guinea, people are advised to avoid contact with wild animals, not to eat their meat – especially bat meat – and to seek medical attention immediately in the event of  symptoms. 

Virus experts say Marburg virus is transmitted to humans from mosquitos. Among the tips given to those infected with the Marburg virus is to drink plenty of water. 

Mitoha Ondo’o Ayekaba, the Minister of Health and Social Welfare in Equatorial Guinea, reported the sudden deaths of people who had attended a February 7 burial and then died with the same symptoms of those they had buried. Ayekaba said the government sent blood tests to the neighboring countries of Gabon and Senegal to confirm whether the cause was Marburg virus. 

Since Equatorial Guinea announced the discovery of the Marburg virus, the neighboring country of Cameroon has stopped the movement of people across the border between the two countries. 

Voice of America reported that Marburg virus was identified for the first time in 1967 in Marburg, Germany, as well as in Serbia. The outbreaks were linked to lab work using African green monkeys imported from Uganda. 

In September 2022, Ghana recorded two deaths from Marburg virus; Guinea recorded one death in 2021, the first case in western Africa. Previously, the virus had been detected in Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, South Africa, and Uganda.