WHO steps up Marburg virus containment efforts

The World Health Organization (WHO) has intensified surveillance on the deadly Marburg virus, whose spread is now a serious cause for concern.

The move follows confirmation by Equatorial Guinea of an outbreak of the highly infectious virus, which is understood to have killed nine people in the African country.

There are fears that the virus is spreading rapidly, with the WHO’s action viewed as a concerted action to contain the spread in its early stages. Neighbouring Cameroon restricted movements along its border last week for fear of contagion and said this week that it has detected two suspected cases.

The UN agency convened an emergency meeting on 14 February with a representative of the Marburg virus vaccine consortium (MARVAC) to discuss the vaccine and therapeutic solutions to the virus and outline research priorities.

“Surveillance in the field has been intensified,” said George Ameh, WHO’s country representative in Equatorial Guinea. “Contact tracing, as you know, is a cornerstone of the response. We have redeployed the COVID-19 teams that were there for contact tracing and quickly retrofitted them to really help us out.”

The WHO said it has also deployed health emergency experts in epidemiology, case management, infection prevention, laboratory and risk communication to boost the country’s response.

Marburg virus disease is a highly virulent disease that causes haemorrhagic fever, with a fatality ratio of up to 88%. It is in the same family as the virus that causes Ebola virus disease.

Illness caused by Marburg virus begins abruptly, with high fever, severe headache and severe malaise. Many patients develop severe haemorrhagic symptoms within seven days. The virus is transmitted to people from fruit bats and spreads among humans through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected people, surfaces and materials.