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All You Need To Know About the Deadly Marburg Virus Disease (MVD)

The Marburg Virus Disease (MVD) is a hemorrhagic fever virus of the Filoviridae family of viruses and a member of the species Marburg genus Marburgviruses. The virus causes Marburg virus disease in primates, a form of viral hemorrhagic fever. The virus is considered to be extremely deadlier and more dangerous than the Ebola virus. The World Health Organization (WHO) rates it as a Risk Group 4 Pathogen (requiring biosafety level 4-equivalent containment). In the United States, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases ranks it as a Category A Priority Pathogen and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists it as a Category A Bioterrorism Agent.


The Marburg virus was first discovered in 1967 following a set of outbreaks of the disease in the German cities of Marburg and Frankfurt and the Yugoslav capital Belgrade. Laboratory workers were exposed to tissues of infected grivet monkeys (the African green monkey, Chlorocebus aethiops) at the Behringwerke, a major industrial plant in Marburg which was then part of Hoechst, and later part of CSL Behring. During the outbreaks, thirty-one people became infected and seven of them died.

How did it get its name?

It got it’s name Marburg virus from the German city Marburg in Hesse, Germany, where it was first discovered and the taxonomic suffix virus.

Bats can transmit the deadly Marburg virus. Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images

What are the Modes of Transmission?

It has not yet been identified as to how the virus first spreads from its animal host to people; however, for the 2 cases of tourists visiting Uganda in 2008 where one died while the other survived, shows that unprotected contact with infected bat feces or aerosols are the most likely routes of infection. The African fruit bats has been noted by WHO and CDC as the primary carrier of the virus and an exposure to one specie of it can transmit the virus. After this initial crossover of virus from host animal to people, transmission occurs through person-to-person contact. Amniotic fluid, and semen) of a person who is sick with or died from Marburg virus disease, or objects contaminated with body fluids from a person who is sick with or has died from Marburg virus disease (such as clothes, bedding, needles, and medical equipment).

Semen from a man who recovered from MVD (through oral, vaginal, or anal sex). Data on Marburg virus is limited; however, it is known to persist in the testicles and inside of the eye, similar to ebolaviruses. Spread of the virus between people has occurred in close environments and among direct contacts. A common example is through caregivers in the home or in a hospital (nosocomial transmission).

Since Marburg virus and ebolaviruses are both in the same virus family (Filoviridae) it can be assumed that persistence of the Marburg virus in other immune privileged sites (placenta, central nervous system) may be similar. There is no evidence that Marburg virus can spread through sex or other contact with vaginal fluids from a woman who has had MVD.

In previous outbreaks, people who have handled infected nonhuman primates or have come in direct contact with their body fluids have become infected with Marburg virus. Laboratory exposures can also occur when lab staff handle live Marburg virus.

Signs and Symptoms of the virus in an affected person:

Most of the signs and Symptoms of the virus are in similarities to other infections such as typhoid and malaria or viral hemorrhagic fevers include Ebola and Lassa fever. These signs and Symptoms include but not limited to nausea and vomiting, jaundice, coughing, inflammation of the pancreas, sore throat, severe weight loss, skin rash, delirium, shock, liver failure, severe diarrhea, eye redness, massive hemorrhaging, multi-organ dysfunction and chest pain. These signs shows between 2-21 days after a person has been in contact with the virus because this is the incubation period of the MVD.


According to the World Health Organization, there are no approved vaccines or antiviral treatment for Marburg, but early, professional treatment of symptoms like dehydration, supportive hospital therapy  which includes balancing the patient’s fluids and electrolytes, maintaining oxygen status and blood pressure, replacing lost blood and clotting factors, and treatment for any complicating infections should be utilized to increase survival chances.

Experimental treatments are validated in non-human primate models but have never been tried in humans.


Marburg is caused by a group of viruses called marburgviruses and is a rare type of viral hemorrhagic fever that can cause severe illness in people. Fruit Bats (Rousettus aegyptiacus) are considered to be natural hosts for these viruses and are believed to spread at low rates among certain animals. Most often, people become sick with Marburg after contact with infected animals.

When a person is living in or traveling to a region where there is an outbreak of the virus, there are a number of ways to protect yourself and prevent the spread of Marburg just like Ebola since they are part of the same family of viruses, and they are but not limited to:

Avoid funeral or burial practices that involve touching the body or fluid of someone who died from suspected or confirmed cases of Marburgvirus.

Avoid contact with semen from a person who has recovered from Marburg, until testing shows that the virus is gone from their semen.

Avoid contact with blood and body fluids (such as saliva, urine, feces, breast milk, sweat, vomit,  amniotic fluid and semen) of people who are infected with the virus.

Avoid contact with items that may have come in contact with an infected person’s blood or body fluids (such as medical utensils, clothes and beddings).

Avoid contact with fruit bats and nonhuman primates (such as monkeys and chimpanzees)

Avoid areas known to be inhabited by fruit bats (such as mines or caves).

Avoid traveling to a region that has an outbreak of the virus but if you must then be sure to follow these guidelines to ensure safety and upon return monitor the health of such person for 21 days and seek professional medical help immediately if signs and Symptoms are shown.

Be sure to properly wash your hands with soap and water as often as possible.

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