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Suspected Marburg Virus Disease recorded in Ghana: Understanding this virus

The Ghana Health Service says that preliminary findings suggest the presence of the Marburg Virus Disease in the country. 

A statement signed by the Director-General of the Health Service, Dr. Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, says that “the disease was suspected following the identification of two persons who met the case definition for an Acute Haemorrhagic Fever in two different locations in the Ashanti Region.”

“Blood samples were sent to the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research. Preliminary results suggest the infection is due to the Marburg virus. The samples have subsequently been sent for confirmation at the Institute of Pasteur in Dakar, Senegal with the support of the World Health Organization,” the statement continues.

It would be the first of such infections recorded in the country if this is confirmed.

The statement from the Ghana Health Service

Since the announcement, some social media users appear to be oblivious of what the disease is. Some of these reactions can be found here, here, here, and here.

In view of that, DUBAWA found it necessary to educate the public about the disease.

What is the Marburg Virus Disease?

Marburg is a highly infectious viral haemorrhagic fever and is in the same family as the virus that causes the more well-known Ebola virus disease. 

According to the World Health Organization, it has a fatality ratio of up to 88%

The incubation period for the disease is two to twenty-one days.

How do you get infected and how does it spread?

Marburg is transmitted to people from fruit bats and spreads among humans through direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people and with surfaces and materials (e.g. bedding, clothing) contaminated with these fluids.

Illness from the virus begins abruptly, with high fever, severe headache and malaise. Many patients develop severe haemorrhagic signs within seven days.

What are the symptoms?

According to the WHO:

“Illness caused by Marburg virus begins abruptly, with high fever, severe headache and severe malaise. Muscle aches and pains are a common feature. Severe watery diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramping, nausea, and vomiting can begin on the third day. Diarrhea can persist for a week. The appearance of patients at this phase has been described as showing “ghost-like” drawn features, deep-set eyes, expressionless faces and extreme lethargy. A non-itchy rash has been noted between 2 and 7 days after the onset of symptoms.” 

“Many patients develop severe haemorrhagic manifestations within 7 days, and fatal cases usually have bleeding, often from multiple areas. Fresh blood in vomit and faeces is often accompanied by bleeding from the nose, gums and vagina. Spontaneous bleeding at venipuncture sites (where intravenous access is obtained to give fluids or obtain blood samples) can be particularly troublesome. During the severe phase of illness, patients have sustained high fevers. Involvement of the central nervous system can result in confusion, irritability and aggression. Orchitis (inflammation of the testicles) has been reported occasionally in the late phase (15 days).” 

“In fatal cases, death usually occurs between 8 and 9 days after onset, usually preceded by severe blood loss and shock.” 

Is there treatment?

Although the WHO says that there is no proven treatment available for the disease, a range of potential treatments are currently being evaluated. 

Again, it says that rehydration with oral and intravenous fluids and treatment of specific symptoms improves the survival of infected persons.

Which African countries have recorded cases of the disease?

If Ghana’s suspected cases are confirmed, it will be the first on the continent this year. However, since 1975 six countries – South Africa, Kenya, DR Congo, Angola, Uganda, and Guinea have recorded sporadic cases.

What are health officials doing about the development in Ghana?

Representative of the World Health Organization in Ghana, Dr. Francis Kasolo, says that “health authorities are on the ground investigating the situation and preparing for possible outbreak response.”

Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has also commented on the matter, saying that the situation is being assessed.

The WHO Regional Office for Africa also reports that experts are being deployed to “support Ghana’s health authorities by bolstering disease surveillance, testing, tracing contacts, preparing to treat patients and working with communities to alert and educate them about the risks and dangers of the disease and to collaborate with the emergency response teams.” 

The statement from the Health Service is also urging the public to be on the lookout for the symptoms and report to the nearest health facility.

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