Equatorial Guinea has confirmed its first-ever outbreak of Marburg disease, an Ebola-related virus that has already killed nine people in the tiny Western African country, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
There are also 16 suspected cases with symptoms including fever, fatigue, diarrhoea and vomiting, and 20 other contacts are also being monitored in two districts near the borders of Cameroon and Gabon.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday there were still no confirmed cases in those two neighbouring countries, but that the agency was helping on the ground to “rapidly detect, isolate, and provide care for any suspected cases”. Ghana already saw an outbreak last year.
WHO also said it had chartered flights ready to send medical supplies and personal protective equipment from Nairobi, Kenya.
There is no approved vaccine or antiviral treatment for Marburg virus, which causes fever and other symptoms similar to Ebola and also spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids of infected people and surfaces.
WHO said it was convening a special vaccine panel to identify which candidate vaccine should be evaluated first and prepared for potential trials.
What is Marburg virus?
Marburg virus disease, formerly known as Marburg hemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans.
It is named after the town in Germany where the first cases were recorded in 1967.
According to the WHO, it is transmitted to humans from contact with fruit bats, a natural host of the virus, and then spreads from human to human through contact with bodily fluids of infected people, and infected surfaces and materials.
Initial symptoms begin abruptly, with high fever, headache and tiredness, with muscle aches and pains a common feature. On the third day of illness, patients can suffer from diarrhoea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.
Between days five and seven, many patients develop severe “haemorrhagic manifestations”, meaning bleeding, with fatal cases usually involving some form of bleeding, often from multiple areas.
Patients can start vomiting blood or see it in their faeces, but they can also bleed from the nose, gums, and vagina, according to the WHO.
In fatal cases, death usually occurs around eight or nine days after initial symptoms.
How deadly is Marburg virus?
It is an extremely dangerous virus, with an average case fatality rate of around 50 per cent - although this has varied from 24 per cent to 88 per cent in past outbreaks, depending on the virus strain and the medical care given.
The first cases of the virus were recorded in 1967 in Germany - in Marburg and Frankfurt - and in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia).
These outbreaks were linked to lab work using African green monkeys imported from Uganda.
There have since been a dozen more major outbreaks, mostly in southern and eastern Africa, with cases reported in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, South Africa, and Uganda.