How deadly is Marburg?
Marburg is one of the deadliest pathogens known to man.
The WHO says it has a case fatality rate (CFR) of up to 90 percent.
But experts estimate that it’s probably closer to the 50 percent mark, similar to its Ebola cousin, another member of the filoviridae family.
That means that for every 100 people confirmed to be infected with Marburg, half are expected to die.
However, scientists don’t know the infection fatality rate, which measures everyone who becomes infected, not just the cases that test positive.
For comparison, Covid had a CFR of around three percent when it hit the scene.
What are the telltale symptoms?
Symptoms come on abruptly and include severe headaches, fever, diarrhea, stomach pain, and vomiting. They get more and more serious.
In the early stages of MVD, the disease it causes, is very difficult to distinguish from other tropical diseases, such as Ebola and malaria.
Infected patients become “ghostly”, often with sunken eyes and expressionless faces.
This is often accompanied by bleeding from multiple openings, such as the nose, gums, eyes, and vagina.
Like Ebola, even dead bodies can transmit the virus to people exposed to their fluids.
How does the virus spread?
Human infections generally start in areas where people have prolonged exposure to mines or caves inhabited by colonies of infected fruit bats.
Fruit bats naturally harbor the virus.
However, it can spread between humans through direct contact with bodily fluids from infected people, surfaces, and materials.
Contaminated clothing and bedding are a risk, as are burial ceremonies that involve direct contact with the deceased.
In Equatorial Guinea, the virus was found in samples taken from deceased patients suffering from symptoms such as fever, fatigue, and bloody vomiting and diarrhea.
Health workers have frequently been infected while treating patients from Marburg.
Gavi, an international organization that promotes access to vaccines, says people in Africa should avoid eating or handling bushmeat.
Is there a vaccine?
There are currently no approved vaccines to treat the virus.
The WHO called an urgent meeting Monday on the rise in cases, calling in experts from around the world.
Members of the Marburg Virus Vaccine Consortium (MARVAC), speaking to the WHO, said it could take months for effective vaccines and therapies to become available, as manufacturers would need to gather materials and conduct trials.
The experts identified 28 experimental vaccine candidates that could be effective against the virus, most of which were developed to fight Ebola.
Five stood out in particular as vaccines to explore.
Three vaccine developers — Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Public Health Vaccines and Sabin Vaccine Institute — said they may have doses available to test in the current outbreak.
The Janssen and Sabin vaccines have already gone through phase one clinical trials. However, neither vaccine is available in large quantities.
Public Health Vaccines’ jab was also recently found to protect against the virus in monkeys, and has been cleared for human testing by the Food and Drug Administration.
How bad were the previous Marburg groups and where were they?
Prior to this outbreak, only 30 cases had been reported globally between 2007 and 2022.
Angola, in central Africa, faced the largest known outbreak in 2004. It had a mortality rate of 90 percent, with 227 deaths among 252 infected people, according to the Angolan government.
Last September, Ghana declared the end of a Marburg outbreak that has affected the Ashanti, Savannah and Western regions of the country.
Could it make it to Britain or America?
Most Marburg outbreaks clear up after infecting a few people.
For this reason, experts say the chances of it triggering a pandemic are slim. However, it is not impossible.
Professor Whitworth told MailOnline yesterday: “Marburg outbreaks are always of concern because of the high case fatality rate and the potential for person-to-person spread by close contact.”
However, the speed at which officials detected the outbreak in Equatorial Guinea may have helped slow the spread of the infection so far, he advised.
He said: ‘This outbreak has occurred in a remote forested area of Equatorial Guinea which limits the potential for rapid spread or affects many people.
“It also appears to have been detected quickly, the number of suspected cases is small, and the first death under investigation occurred on January 7, only about five weeks ago.”
But he added: ‘The outbreak occurred close to the international borders with Cameroon and Gabon, so international coordination will be required.
“So overall, the risk to Equatorial Guinea and the region is moderate, and the risk of it spreading outside of the region is very low.”