The World Health Organization announced yesterday (July 7) that two unrelated people had contracted the deadly Marburg virus in the West African country of Ghana. Both people were taken to hospitals in Ghana’s southern Ashanti region after exhibiting diarrhea, fever, and vomiting, which are common symptoms of the Ebola-like virus. Preliminary testing indicated positive results for the virus in both people, who subsequently died; the WHO says it will confirm the lab results at the Institut Pasteur in Senegal.
“The health authorities are on the ground investigating the situation and preparing for a possible outbreak response. We are working closely with the country to ramp up detection, track contacts, be ready to control the spread of the virus,” Francis Kasolo, a WHO representative in Ghana, says in the announcement.
Fruit bats (family Pteropodidae) transmit the highly infectious Marburg virus to humans, who can spread it to others via direct contact with body fluids, including urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, amniotic fluid, and semen, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The virus may also be acquired from surfaces, clothing, and bedding that contain infected body fluids.
Previous outbreaks of the disease have occurred in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, South Africa, and Uganda, according to the WHO, but the virus first appeared in West Africa last April in the country of Guinea. One person died in that outbreak, which the WHO declared over five months later after no additional cases were reported.
Fatality rates from previous outbreaks vary between 24 and 88 percent, depending on the strain and how the cases were managed, according to the WHO. “Preparations for a possible outbreak response are being set up swiftly as further investigations are underway,” the WHO statement says.