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Marburg Virus

Alternative names: Marburg hemorrhagic fever

Type of infection: viral

Incubation period: 2 to 21 days (5 to 9 being typical)

Mortality rate: 20% to 90% (some outbreaks seem to be more lethal than others)

Vector: body fluid contact, or animal vector


Marburg virus is one of the few diseases that was discovered in Europe during the modern era. An outbreak in the down of Marburg in the 1960s was the first recorded episode of the disease.

Since then, there have been other significant epidemics but it's still a relatively rare disease compared to the similar ebola virus. The largest outbreak was in 2004, when 252 people contracted Marburg virus in Angola. That was a particularly lethal outbreak because many patients didn't get medical help. 90% of those who caught it died.

Catching Marburg Virus

Compared to diseases that have been around for hundreds of years, Marburg virus is relatively new on the medical scene. And believe it or not, scientists are not completely sure how it is transmitted. It is known that close contact with an infected person is likely to spread the disease, probably from infected fluid droplets in the air after sneezing or coughing.

But most initial cases come from some sort of animal contact, and that is where the mystery is. Bats seem to be the carrier, though bites are not necessary to contract the disease. Exposure to guano, especially particles in the air, are the probable method of transmission based on cases where people caught Marburg virus after visiting certain cave systems with large bat populations.

Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms of Marburg virus aren't very unique, and can easily be mistaken for other diseases. It starts suddenly with fever, headache and chills. After a few days, a bumpy red rash will show up on the body, usually on the chest, back or stomach. Vomiting, diarrhea, chest and abdominal pain will soon follow.

Uncontrolled bleeding, weight loss and delirium are the last stages of the disease before the organs start to shut down.


There are no drugs that will help against Marburg virus, so the only thing you can do is treat the symptoms. Keep the patient hydrated and rested, and possibly give blood transfusions if the bleeding is severe. Standard over the counter medications can be used to bring down the fever and reduce pain, particularly in the early stages. Though various outbreaks have different mortality rates, the overall average is 59%.


Though research is currently underway, there is no vaccine for Marburg virus presently. Avoid other patients who are ill with it, and wear a mask when in their vicinity. Since information on the animal vector is a little sketchy, the best thing to do would be to avoid areas where bats congregate (like large cave systems), in regions where Marburg is an issue.

Risk Assessment

Research and development has gone into the weaponization of Marburg virus (particularly in the old Soviet Union). In fact, it was during this research that a lab accident led to the death of the leading doctor, and a more virulent strain was developed from his organs. So it is a possible agent for bio-terrorism as the stockpiles of this virus are still out there.

In more natural settings, it's unlikely that Marburg virus would reach America as it is currently found in central Africa and is rare even there.

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