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A Primer on Marburg Virus

Marburg is a rare, severe form of hemorrhagic fever closely related to the Ebola virus. In both diseases, victims bleed to death, often from every orifice and every organ. Few infections are as deadly.

Symptoms of Marburg

Marburg is caused by an animal-borne RNA virus of the filovirus family. After incubating for five to 21 days, the disease comes on suddenly with symptoms including fever, chills, headache and muscular pain or tenderness.

Around the fifth day, victims may develop a rash of discolored spots and raised bumps, especially around their chest, back and stomach. Those infected may also experience nausea, vomiting, chest pain, sore throat, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

Symptoms become increasingly severe and may include jaundice, inflammation of the pancreas, severe weight loss, delirium, shock, liver failure and multi-organ dysfunction.

Because many of the signs and symptoms of Marburg are similar to those of other infectious diseases, such as malaria or typhoid fever, diagnosing the disease can be difficult, especially if only a single case is involved.


As of now, there is no specific treatment for Marburg in humans. Health experts say patients should be hospitalized, their electrolytes and fluids should be balanced, their oxygen intake and blood pressure maintained, and any lost blood and clotting factors should be replaced.

There is a promising treatment on the horizon, however. Researchers have developed a treatment that works in monkeys infected with Marburg. It's based on a vaccine that proved successful last year in preventing Marburg in monkeys who were later exposed to large doses of the virus.

Previous Outbreaks

Marburg was first recognized in 1967, when outbreaks occurred simultaneously in laboratories in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany, and in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, sickening a total of 37 people. Those who became ill included lab workers, medical personnel and family members who'd cared for them.

The first people infected had been exposed to African green monkeys imported from Uganda or their tissues. In Marburg, the monkeys had been imported for research.

Recorded cases of Marburg are rare and have appeared in only a few locations:

1975: A traveler -- most likely exposed in Zimbabwe -- becomes ill in Johannesburg, South Africa, passing the virus to his traveling companion and a nurse.

1980: A patient is infected in western Kenya, not far from the Ugandan source of the monkeys implicated in the 1967 outbreak. The patient’s attending physician in Nairobi becomes the second case.

1987: A young man who had traveled extensively in Kenya, including western Kenya, becomes ill and dies.

1998: An outbreak in Durba, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is linked to workers in a gold mine. After that outbreak subsides, sporadic cases occur in the same region.

2004-2005: In October 2004, an outbreak strikes the Uige Province of northern Angola. As of April 26, 2005, the World Health Organization has counted 266 cases of Marburg in Angola. Ninety percent of them have died. WHO officials say the virus is continuing to spread in the northern province of Uige, but the number of new cases is declining.

Sources: CDC Special Pathogens Branch; World Health Organization Communicable Disease Surveillance & Response

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