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Should I Be Worried About the Marburg Virus?

General Global Health Surveillance Human Health

Outbreak Prompts Concerns, but is Unlikely to be Another Pandemic

Recent outbreaks of Marburg fever in Equatorial Guinea and Tanzania have prompted concern about the virus, its impact on local populations, and its potential to spread elsewhere in the world. To learn more about the virus, we spoke with our Dr. Gene Olinger, Chief Science Advisor.   

Since 2000, Dr. Olinger has been engaged in the development of in vitro and in vivo models for high consequence pathogens and the assessment of medical countermeasures for the protection of humans. He and his team have made key contributions to the epidemiology of these viruses, testing in the laboratory and responses to outbreaks. This work has included efforts to develop filovirus medical countermeasures that can prevent, diagnose, and treat Ebola and Marburg disease. As an adjunct member of Boston University National Emerging Infectious Disease Laboratory, Dr. Olinger continues these efforts and is focused on the training of the next generation of scientists working in maximum containment laboratories and field work. 

What is Marburg?
Marburg virus disease (MVD), commonly referred to as Marburg or Marburg fever, is a rare but severe hemorrhagic fever caused by the Marburg virus. This genetically unique zoonotic RNA virus of the filovirus family is in the same virus family that includes Ebola virus, which causes Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). 

Is Marburg virus disease deadly?
Marburg virus disease has a high case-fatality rate that can range from 24-88 percent, depending on the outbreak and the quality of supportive care, making it one of the deadliest pathogens for mankind and non-human primates. 

Where does Marburg originate?
Marburg virus disease was first discovered in an outbreak in 1967, and the source was traced back to the importation of African green monkeys from Uganda. Other outbreaks of the disease have sporadically occurred in central Africa over the years. In 2021, there was one case in Guinea, which resulted in that person’s death, and three of four people who had the disease in Uganda. Like Ebola virus, spillover events are likely to increase as human interactions increase with the natural host. The probability of an outbreak increases when patients seek medical assistance in cities with larger populations. 

How is the Marburg virus transmitted?
Once an individual is infected with the virus, Marburg can spread through human-to-human transmission via 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 like bedding and clothing that are contaminated with these fluids. Bats, particularly the Rousettus aegyptiacus or African fruit bats are the natural host for Marburg virus and don’t normally show signs of disease. 

What are the symptoms of Marburg disease?
According to the World Health Organization, illness caused by the 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. Other symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, chest pain, a sore throat, inflammation of the pancreas, severe weight loss, delirium, shock, liver failure, massive hemorrhaging, and multi-organ dysfunction. 

Is there a cure for Marburg disease?
There is no specific treatment or vaccine for Marburg virus disease, and clinical diagnosis can be difficult. However, supportive care is essential, and patients should receive intensive supportive care and treatment for complications such as shock, organ failure, and secondary infections. There are also some promising vaccines and treatments under development. As with other diseases like tuberculosis, limited resources and a focus on COVID have delayed the approval for these potential candidate treatments that are similar to those developed for Ebola virus. 

Can this virus become pandemic like the SARS-CoV2 virus and COVID-19? 
No, it is unlikely that the Marburg virus will create a pandemic like what we’ve observed the past few years with SARS-CoV2 and COVID-19. Much like the outbreaks of Ebola virus in DRC and West Africa, large outbreaks are possible without adequate resources, patient isolation, clinical support, and case contact tracing. While the Marburg virus disease has the potential to cause severe illness, it is not known to spread as easily as SARS-CoV-2, which has caused a global pandemic due to its highly contagious nature. The ability of the Marburg virus to cause a pandemic is dependent on a variety of factors, including its mode of transmission and the effectiveness of public health measures to contain its spread. Therefore, while the Marburg virus is a serious public health concern, the current search results do not suggest that it is likely to become a pandemic like SARS-CoV-2. 

Is there a possibility that MRIGlobal’s Athena Mobile Laboratories and team could be deployed to support the localized response?
During the Ebola virus outbreak in Guinea and Sierra Leone in 2015-16, our team was called upon to fabricate, deploy, and staff mobile laboratories to support the diagnostic response. Since then, this platform served as the basis for development of the Athena Mobile Laboratory, which provides an enhanced mobile laboratory workspace capable of rapid worldwide deployment. Should we be called upon to support the diagnostic effort in response to the current Marburg virus disease outbreak, our team will be ready. 


Contact MRIGlobal to further understand our work in infectious diseases. We offer a broad portfolio of infectious disease testing assays and capabilities across diagnostic disciplines, from screening and diagnosis to genotyping, therapy, and monitoring. Those seeking analysis of infectious disease tests can trust in our breadth of experience and knowledge – not just on the subject matter, but FDA protocols as well. 

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