What is Marburg virus and should we be worried?

    An epidemic outbreak of Marburg virus in Equatorial Guinea, Central Africa, was confirmed this week, the first time the virus has occurred there. At least 16 cases have been detected, and nine deaths.

    There are no approved treatments for Marburg virus, which is closely related to Ebola virus, but vaccines are in development. Following an unprecedented Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2014 that caused more than 28,000 cases and 11,000 deaths, drugs and vaccines against Ebola were developed.


    In fact, some of these were repurposed for COVID-19 in 2020. That experience may help more rapid vaccine and drug development against Marburg virus.

    What is Marburg virus?

    Marburg is a filovirus like its more famous cousin, Ebola. These are part of a broader group of viruses that can cause viral haemorrhagic fever, a syndrome of fever and bleeding.

    Filoviruses are the most lethal of all haemorrhagic fevers, compared with more common viral haemorrhagic fevers such as dengue, yellow fever and Lassa fever. The first outbreaks of Marburg occurred in 1967 in lab workers in Germany and Yugoslavia who were working with African green monkeys imported from Uganda. The virus was identified in a lab in Marburg, Germany.

    Since then, outbreaks have occurred in a handful of countries in Africa, less frequently than Ebola, with the largest in Angola in 2005 (374 cases and 329 deaths).

    Marburg’s natural host is a fruit bat, but it can also infect primates, pigs and other animals. Human outbreaks start after a person has contact with an infected animal.

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