Marburg virus is one of two viruses of the Filovirus family which, along with Ebola virus, can cause a severe and fatal haemorrhagic fever (VHF).
Marburg virus is one of 2 viruses belonging to the Filovirus family. Along with Ebola virus, Marburg virus causes a severe and highly fatal haemorrhagic fever called Marburg virus disease which is clinically almost indistinguishable from Ebola virus disease.
Marburg virus affects both humans and non-human primates.
The disease was first recognised in 1967, when outbreaks of haemorrhagic fever occurred simultaneously in laboratories in Marburg and Frankfurt in Germany, and Belgrade in Yugoslavia. A total of 31 people became ill, including 25 laboratory workers, and medical personnel and a family member who had cared for them. The laboratory workers all had contact with the blood, organs or cell-cultures from a batch of imported African green monkeys from north-western Uganda.
It is generally accepted that Marburg virus is a zoonotic (animal borne) virus. Fruit bats (Rousettus aegyptii) are considered the natural host of the virus. Monkeys are susceptible to Marburg virus infection but are not considered the reservoir hosts as they die rapidly once infected.
Recorded cases of Marburg virus disease are rare.
Outbreaks and sporadic cases have been reported in Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, and South Africa (in a person who had recently travelled to Zimbabwe).
The largest outbreak on record to date occurred in 2005 in Angola, and involved 374 cases, including 329 deaths.
Two unrelated sporadic cases occurred during 2008 following visits to the “python cave” in the Maramagambo Forest in western Uganda; this cave is home to a large colony of Egyptian fruit bats. Both people became ill after return to their home country; one in the Netherlands and one in the USA.
The most recent outbreak was in October 2017 in eastern Uganda.
Recorded outbreaks to 2017
|Year(s)||Country||Apparent or suspected origin||Reported number of cases||Reported number of deaths (%)||Outbreak setting|
|1967||Germany and Yugoslavia||Uganda||31||7 (22%)||Simultaneous outbreaks occurred in laboratory workers who had handled imported African green monkeys.|
|1975||Johannesburg, South Africa||Zimbabwe||3||1 (33%)||A young man who had recently travelled through Zimbabwe was admitted to hospital in Johannesburg and later died. Infection transmitted to his travelling companion and a nurse, both of whom recovered.|
|1980||Kenya||Kenya||2||1 (50%)||A male patient with a recent travel history including a visit to Kitum Cave in Kenya’s Mount Elgon National Park. The doctor who attempted resuscitation became infected but recovered.|
|1987||Kenya||Kenya||1||1||A fatal case occurred in a 15 year old Danish boy who had been in Kenya for 1 month. He had visited Kitum Cave in Mouth Elgon National Park.|
|1998 - 2000||Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)||Durba (DRC)||154||128 (83%)||The first large outbreak of Marburg under natural conditions. Majority in young male workers at a mine in Durba, cases also detected in neighbouring village, and among family members.|
|2004 - 2005||Angola||Uige (Angola)||374||329 (88%)||Largest outbreak on record. Cases reported in 5 provinces, the majority in Uige. Significant number of healthcare workers and family members affected. Cultural practices, civil unrest and weakened healthcare systems hampered control.|
|2007||Uganda||Kitaka mine||4||2 (50%)||Mine workers in western Kamwenge province.|
|2008 (Jan)||USA||Python cave Uganda||1||0||A tourist who had visited this cave, reknowned for its thousands of bats, became unwell after returning to the USA.|
|2008 (July)||Netherlands||Python cave Uganda||1||1||A tourist who had visited the same cave.|
|2012||Uganda||southwestern Uganda||20||9 (45%)||4 districts (Kabale, Ibanda, Mbarara, and Kampala)|
|2014||Uganda||Kampala||1||1||A health professional|
|2017||Uganda||Kween district||3||3||Three members of one family|
The incubation period of Marburg haemorrhagic fever is 3 to 10 days.
The onset of illness is sudden, with:
- severe headache
- high fever
- progressive and rapid debilitation
By about the third day symptoms include:
- watery diarrhoea
- abdominal pain
Symptoms become increasingly severe, and many patients develop severe haemorrhagic fever after 5 to 7 days.
Fatal cases usually have bleeding, which is often from multiple sites.
Many of the symptoms of Marburg haemorrhagic fever are similar to those of other infectious diseases, such as malaria or typhoid. Diagnosis of the disease may be difficult.
The initial infection in any outbreak occurs through exposure in mines or caves inhabited by Rousettus bat colonies.
Subsequent transmission of virus from person to person requires close contact with an infected patient. Blood or other bodily fluids (faeces, vomit, urine, saliva and respiratory secretions) contains a high concentration of virus, particularly when these fluids contain blood.
Contact with blood or other bodily fluids transmits the virus.
Sexual transmission of the virus can occur, and Marburg virus may remain in semen for up to 7 weeks after clinical recovery.
Transmission of the virus via contaminated injection equipment or needle-stick injuries is associated with more severe disease.
Close contact with the body or body fluids of people who have died of Marburg, during preparation for burial, is a recognised source of infection.
In the UK, Public Health England (PHE) has specialised laboratory facilities to provide a definitive diagnosis of Marburg virus disease at the PHE Rare and Imported Pathogens Laboratory (RIPL).
There is no specific treatment available for Marburg virus disease. Patients receive supportive therapy, including:
- balancing fluids and electrolytes
- maintaining oxygen status and blood pressure
- replacing lost blood and clotting factors
The UK has specialist guidance on the management (including infection control) of patients with viral haemorrhagic fevers including Marburg virus disease.
It provides advice on how to comprehensively assess, rapidly diagnose and safely manage patients suspected of being infected, within the NHS, to ensure the protection of public health.
Prevention and control
There is no vaccine for Marburg virus disease.
Measures for prevention of secondary transmission of Marburg virus are similar to those used for other haemorrhagic fever viruses, and focus on avoiding contact with infected bodily fluids.
To avoid person to person transmission of Marburg virus, healthcare workers must take great care when nursing patients, to avoid contact with infected bodily fluids.
Patients should be isolated, and heathcare workers must use strict barrier nursing techniques including wearing masks, gloves and gowns.
Invasive procedures are a particular risk and infection control is essential for:
- placing of intravenous lines
- handling blood and secretions
- inserting catheters
- using suction devices
Hospital staff require their own individual gowns, gloves, masks and goggles. Staff must disinfect non-disposable protective equipment properly before re-use.
Other infection control measures include proper use, disinfection, and disposal of instruments and equipment used in caring for patients.
Those people who have died of Marburg virus infection should be promptly and safely buried.