Marburg Virus Kills Five in Uganda; World Health Organization Pledges Assistance

on October 22, 2012 6:19 PM EDT

Virus
Virus (Photo: Creative Commons)

The Marburg Virus, a rare disease related to the Ebola Virus, has claimed five lives in Uganda, officials reported on Monday. The first Marburg outbreak in the East African nation since 2008, the viral hemorrhagic fever is highly contagious, spread through contact with wounds or bodily fluids of an infected person.

The Ministry of Health spokesperson Rukia Nakamatte said all quarantined residents will be monitored until the gestation period has finished. After an incubation period of five to 10 days, people afflicted with the virus begin to experience fever, chills, headaches and muscle pain.

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Five days later, a rash on the chest, back and stomach may occur. Nausea, vomiting, chest pain, sore throat, abdominal pain and diarrhea are additional symptoms noted in some patients.

A spokesperson for the Ugandan Ministry of Health said today that 34 people are being monitored for possible infection. Some observers were perplexed as to why it took the World Health Organization (WHO) additional days to issue an alert about the outbreak. The Uganda Ministry of Health made a statement on Oct. 19; the WHO waited until Oct. 21.

The reason for the wait? WHO policy requires testing of samples before issuing an alert. In this case, blood samples were taken from three people who were infected. After testing positive at the Uganda Virus Research Institute, the WHO released a warning.

Though residents in the districts of Kabale and Rukungiri are relieved that the World Health Organization has sent a team to investigate and respond, the action has done little to mitigate the sense of alarm that set in the last few days. Ebola and Marburg, generally limited to Africa, are part of a class of diseases called filoviruses. With almost no survivors, the viruses attack the body's immune system by invading and killing white blood cells.

The disease can be contracted by people and non-human primates, and is transmitted through direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected patients. Anyone in contact with a human being or animal that is infected is at risk.

First noticed in 1967, the virus started to spread simultaneously in laboratories in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany and in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia). The first people infected were exposed to African green monkeys or their tissues. The monkeys had been sent to the research lab in Marburg to prepare a polio vaccine, according to the Center for Disease Control. There were 31 cases reported at the time.

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