Marburg virus is considered to be a re-emerging pathogen that poses a significant threat to human health. This naturally occurring virus can cause a fulminating hemorrhagic disease with a severe shock syndrome and high mortality in both humans and nonhuman primates – also known as Marburg hemorrhagic fever.
Marburg virus belongs to the family Filoviridae, which contains three genera – Ebolavirus, Marburgvirus and Cuevavirus. The genus Marburgvirus contains only one species: Marburg marburgvirus, more commonly termed Marburg virus. Its genome contains linear, non-segmented, single-stranded RNA molecule that is of a negative polarity.
Marburg virus outbreaks that occur sporadically in Africa are characterized by high mortality and a high incidence of nosocomial transmission. The disease it causes is considered a zoonosis that persists in healthy reservoir host (fruit bats) in the endemic areas of Africa, whereas humans and nonhuman primates enter the cycle as spillover hosts with a high rate of fatal outcomes. After an initial 1967 outbreak in Europe, the virus was not in the focus for eight years when a young Australian travelling throughout Zimbabwe developed similar symptomatology. The largest Marburg hemorrhagic fever outbreak to date occurred in northeastern Angola in the spring of 2005, with over 90 cases and 90% mortality rate.
The Marburg virus is transmitted by direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected persons. Transmission of the Marburg virus also occurred by handling ill or dead infected wild animals (monkeys, fruit bats). The diagnosis is difficult as many of the signs and symptoms mimic those of other more frequent infectious diseases, such as typhoid fever or malaria; hence, microbiological methods (such as antigen-capture ELISA, IgM-capture ELISA and polymerase chain reaction) are employed to confirm a case of Marburg hemorrhagic fever.
The predominant treatment is general supportive therapy. Treatment is therefore supportive, which includes providing supplemental oxygen, balancing the patient’s fluids and electrolytes, maintaining circulatory volume and blood pressure, and introducing treatment for any complicating infections.