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Marburg Virus Disease (MVD): Transmission, Symptoms, Prevention Treatment

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Marburg virus disease (MVD) is a rare, severe form of viral hemorrhagic fever (VHF). It was first identified in 1967 in the German city of Marburg and is caused by an infectious agent, the Marburg virus. The virus is a hemorrhagic fever virus that is classified as a filovirus, along with the Ebola virus. The Marburg virus is currently believed to be native to Africa, where it is thought to have originated in bats.

Recently,the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed the first-ever outbreak of MVD (also called Marburg hemorrhagic fever) in Equatorial Guinea, stating that the Ebola-related virus is responsible for about nine deaths in this tiny Western African country. 

Marburg virus disease can be deadly if left untreated—but what exactly is it? This blog post will cover everything you need to know about MVD: its symptoms, treatment options, and how to protect yourself from it. 

Read on to learn more!

What is the Marburg Virus Disease?

Marburg virus disease is a rare and fatal disease caused by the Marburg virus, a zoonotic virus that is spread from animals to humans. This RNA virus is part of a family of viruses known as Filoviridae, the same family of viruses that causes the Ebola virus disease. It is a rare disease that occurs in humans and non-human primates (chimpanzees, gorillas and monkeys). 

As per the WHO, the Marburg virus disease is a highly contagious disease and is considered a medical emergency, as it has a high fatality rate .

How is the Marburg virus transmitted?

The Marburg virus is spread either through the bodily fluids of an infected individual or through contact with infected animals or their urine and/or excretions (monkeys or bats). The virus can also be transmitted between people through direct contact with infected blood, secretions, organs or tissue, as well as from contaminated surfaces and materials. In some cases, the virus can be transmitted through the consumption of contaminated food or water.

What are the symptoms of Marburg virus disease?

According to the WHO, the symptoms of Marburg virus disease typically appear abruptly between two to 21 days after exposure to the Marburg virus and are similar to typhoid and malaria. They include: 

  1. High fever
  2. Severe headache
  3. Severe malaise

Other common symptoms include: 

  1. Muscle pain
  2. Weakness
  3. Diarrhea
  4. Vomiting
  5. Nausea
  6. Cramping
  7. Stomach pain 

In some cases, patients may also experience hiccups, chest pain, and difficulty breathing. 

Patients at this stage have been reported to have ghost-like, drawn looks, sunken eyes, extreme fatigue and expressionless faces. During the 1967 European outbreak, a non-itchy rash was observed in most patients between two and seven days after the onset of symptoms.

Many patients experience severe hemorrhagic symptoms between 5 and 7 days, and those who die generally have some form of bleeding, often from multiple sources. Vomit and stool containing fresh blood are often accompanied by bleeding from the gums, nose and vagina. Spontaneous bleeding is seen at venepucture site –  the site where intravenous access is used to administer fluids or take blood samples – making it particularly difficult. During the most severe stage of the illness, patients have experienced prolonged high fevers. If the central nervous system is affected, it can lead to confusion, irritability, and aggression.

Occasionally, inflammation of one or both testicles (orchitis) has been reported in the later stages of the disease (15 days). 

In fatal cases, death usually occurs between 8 and 9 days after the onset of the symptoms and is usually preceded by severe blood loss and shock.

How is Marburg virus disease diagnosed?

The most important thing in diagnosing Marburg virus disease (MVD) is early recognition of the illness. The incubation period for Marburg virus disease is usually 5-10 days, but can range from 2-21 days. Clinical diagnosis of Marburg virus disease can be difficult due to its smilarity with other common infectious diseases like malaria, typhoid fever and dengue, or other viral hemorrhagic fevers, such as Ebola virus disease and Lassa fever. A laboratory test is required to confirm the diagnosis.

To confirm the cases of MVD, antigen-capture enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) testing, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and IgM-capture ELISA can be conducted within a few days of symptom onset. 

If a person is suspected of having MVD and has been exposed to the Marburg virus, immediate isolation and notification of public health professionals are essential. Samples from the patient should then be collected and tested to confirm the diagnosis.

How is the Marburg virus disease treated?

No specific therapy is approved to treat Marburg virus disease, and no vaccine exists. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and supporting patients through the course of the disease. Patients are typically hospitalized and treated with intravenous fluids and electrolytes to maintain hydration and pain relief medication. In some cases, patients may also require supplemental oxygen or mechanical ventilation.

Can Marburg virus disease be prevented?

There is no vaccine or specific treatment for Marburg virus disease, so the best way to prevent it is to avoid exposure to the virus. Here are some tips:

  1. Avoid contact with infected animals, including monkeys, bats, and rodents.
  2. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling any potentially infected materials.
  3. Avoid close contact with people who are sick with Marburg virus disease.
  4. If you must travel to an area where the virus is present, take precautions to protect yourself, such as avoiding contact with sick people and wearing protective masks.


Marburg virus disease (MVD), caused by the Marburg virus, is a highly contagious disease that causes haemorrhagic fever with a high fatality rate. The virus is a member of Filoviridae family – the same family as the virus that causes Ebola virus disease. The disease can spread through direct contact with blood or other body fluids or indirectly when coming into contact with contaminated surfaces, such as doorknobs or bedding. The incubation period for Marburg virus disease is usually 5-10 days, although it can be as short as 2 days or as long as 21 days.

Symptoms include severe headache, muscle pain, fever, and diarrhoea, followed by vomiting, rash, and multi-organ failure. While there is no approved treatment for Marburg virus disease, patients are treated symptomatically. The best way to prevent MVD is to avoid exposure to the virus.  

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