What You Need to Know About the Marburg Virus Disease

Marbug virus

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Key Takeaways

  • Outbreaks of Marburg virus disease, a rare but fatal hemorrhagic fever, have been reported in two African countries.
  • The virus can spread through interactions with wildlife like a fruit bat or exposure to body fluids or blood from an infected person. 
  • Experts say the risk of Marburg virus disease spreading to the U.S. is low.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week issued a health alert to warn healthcare providers in the United States about two confirmed outbreaks of Marburg virus in Equatorial Guinea and Tanzania.

Similar to Ebola, the Marburg virus is a deadly but rare hemorrhagic fever that can cause damage to multiple organ systems and internal bleeding.

There are no confirmed cases of Marburg virus disease in the U.S. or other countries so far, but the alert is meant to raise awareness of the risk of imported cases in the U.S. and inform citizens who plan to travel to areas with current outbreaks, according to Stanley Deresinski, MD, a clinical professor in the division of infectious diseases and geographic medicine at Stanford University.

Here’s what you need to know about the Marburg virus, how it spreads, and if you need to be concerned, according to experts. 

How Does Marburg Virus Spread?

Marburg virus is a viral disease that can affect both humans and non-human primates, such as monkeys and chimpanzees, as well as bats, Deresinski said. It can cause severe hemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal in humans.

The virus was first discovered in 1967 in Marburg and Frankfurt in Germany as well as in Belgrade, Serbia. Outbreaks have also appeared sporadically throughout sub-Saharan Africa. While cases of Marburg virus in people have occurred outside of Africa, these cases are uncommon, according to the CDC.

Marburg virus is mainly spread through contact. Transmission can occur if someone comes into contact with blood or other bodily fluids, such as saliva, sweat, vomit, urine, semen, or breast milk of a person who’s infected with or had died from the virus. Objects contaminated with these fluids can also carry the virus.

Unlike COVID-19, the Marburg virus doesn’t spread through airborne particles.

One thing people can do to prevent the spread is to avoid traveling to areas where there are known outbreaks, Deresinski said. If you’re returning from an area with a known outbreak of Marburg virus, you should monitor your health for at least 21 days and seek medical care right away if you develop any symptoms, according to the CDC.

What Are the Symptoms of Marburg Virus?

A person who is infected with the Marburg virus is not considered contagious until symptoms appear. After an incubation period of between two and 21 days, symptom onset can be sudden and it can include fever, chills, headache, and muscle aches.

After about five days of symptom onset, the infected person may also experience a maculopapular rash on the chest, back, or stomach. Nausea, vomiting, chest pain, a sore throat, abdominal pain, and diarrhea may also appear.

Deresinski said these symptoms might “progress rapidly,” which can lead to critical weight loss, multi-organ dysfunction, liver failure, jaundice or yellowing of the skin, and hemorrhaging.

Is It Treatable?

There are no specific treatments or vaccines available for the disease, Deresinski said. However, those who are infected should seek supportive care, which can include maintaining their blood pressure and oxygen levels, replacing lost blood, treating any infections, and balancing their fluids and electrolytes.

“They could get supportive care, meaning providing fluids and trying to deal with the bleeding,” Deresinski said. “These may improve outcomes but the mortality rates remain high.” 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the average Marburg virus disease mortality rate is about 50%. In past outbreaks, mortality rates have varied from 24% to 88% depending on the virus strain and case management.

Should You Be Worried? 

The risk of the Marburg virus becoming a problem in the U.S. is extremely low at this time, according to Amesh Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. There are no direct commercial flights from Equatorial Guinea or Tanzania to the U.S. and the number of people arriving in the U.S. from either country is small.

Adalja said this isn’t something that the general public should be worried about. But travelers who plan to visit areas with current outbreaks need to be aware of the virus, the potential risk of exposure, and ways to prevent transmission.

“The chances that you’re going to be a victim of this outside of the areas where the cases are going on are infinitely small,” Deresinski said.

What This Means For You

Experts say the risk of Marburg virus disease spreading to the U.S. is low and it’s not something you need to be worried about unless you plan on traveling to an area where an outbreak is currently present.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Marburg virus disease outbreaks in Equatorial Guinea and Tanzania.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About Marburg virus disease.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Marburg virus disease: transmission.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Marburg virus disease: prevention.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Marburg virus disease: signs and symptoms.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Marburg virus disease: treatment.

  7. World Health Organization. Marburg virus disease.

By Alyssa Hui
Alyssa Hui is a St. Louis-based health and science news writer. She was the 2020 recipient of the Midwest Broadcast Journalists Association Jack Shelley Award.