Guinea has confirmed a case of Marburg disease, the World Health Organization said on Monday, the first recorded in West Africa of the lethal virus that is related to Ebola and, like COVID-19, passed from animal hosts to humans.
The virus, which is carried by bats and has a fatality rate of up to 88 percent, was found in samples taken from a patient who died on Aug 2 in southern Gueckedou prefecture, the WHO said.
“The potential for the Marburg virus to spread far and wide means we need to stop it in its tracks,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa.
The discovery comes just two months after the WHO declared an end to Guinea’s second outbreak of Ebola, which started last year and claimed 12 lives.
In Geneva, the WHO said it considered the threat “high” at the national and regional level, but “low” globally.
“We are working with the health authorities to implement a swift response that builds on Guinea’s past experience and expertise in managing Ebola, which is transmitted in a similar way,” Moeti said.
The Guinean government confirmed the Marburg case in a statement.
The case was detected in a village in a forested region close to the borders of Sierra Leone and Liberia. The man’s symptoms date back to July 25, the WHO said.
After being initially treated at a local clinic and tested for malaria, the patient died “in the community”, the WHO said. Post-mortem samples then tested negative for Ebola, but positive for Marburg.
Three family members of the deceased and a healthcare worker have been identified as high-risk close contacts and are being monitored, while investigations are under way to identify the source of the infection and any other possible contacts, the WHO said.
Ten WHO experts, including epidemiologists and socio-anthropologists, are already in the field to support national health authorities.
Cross-border surveillance has also been stepped up so that possible cases can be quickly detected, it said.
Marburg can be transmitted to people from fruit bats and spreads among humans through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected people, surfaces and materials. Illness begins abruptly, with high fever, severe headache and malaise. Many patients develop severe hemorrhagic signs within seven days.
In Africa, previous outbreaks and sporadic cases have been reported in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda.
Fatality rates have ranged from 24 percent to 88 percent in previous outbreaks, depending on the virus strain and case management.
Although there are no approved vaccines or antiviral treatments, oral or intravenous rehydration and treatment of specific symptoms improve survival rates, the WHO says.