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What is Marburg?

A fever and headache are typical onset symptoms of the Marburg virus in humans.
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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 26 July 2014
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Marburg is a deadly hemorrhagic virus closely related to Ebola and originating in virtually the same region of Africa. It is in the same family as Ebola, and shares some similarities with both Lassa and Dengue fever. Marburg may be spread through bodily fluids, including blood and sweat. This makes it particularly prone to transmission in a hospital setting, where insufficient barriers and sterilization leave nurses and doctors at high risk for contracting Marburg from their patients. It is also thought to spread through contact with contaminated primates.

Marburg was the first of the filovirus family to be discovered, leading to the designation of the family which would later include the various strains of the Ebola virus. Marburg was first identified in an outbreak that struck Frankfurt and Marburg, Germany, and Belgrade, Yugoslavia, all around the same time in 1967. This initial outbreak is thought to have been caused by research personnel coming into contact with infected green monkeys that were being used for research.

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Symptoms of Marburg occur rapidly, with those infected exhibiting intense weariness and headaches. A great portion of those infected with Marburg begin hemorrhaging within a week of contamination, with nearly all ultimately fatal cases involving internal and external bleeding. While fatality rates for Ebola seem to have dropped somewhat between the earliest cases and more contemporary outbreaks, Marburg appears to have become decidedly more fatal. While the initial outbreak had a mortality rate of just under 25%, outbreaks in the new millennium have mortality rates in excess of 80%. This may in part be attributed to the location of the outbreaks -- the initial outbreak occurred in industrialized European nations, while subsequent cases primarily appeared in Africa.

It is difficult to diagnose Marburg, since its outward symptoms bear a strong resemblance superficially to both malaria and typhoid fever. It is not uncommon for the first few cases of Marburg to go unnoticed, and for people to be screened for the presence of the virus only once an outbreak has been identified. While there is no cure for Marburg, hospitals will usually put those diagnosed in a supportive quarantine, attempting to help the body fight off the virus. Those who do survive often deal with extended complications, which may include inflammation of various organs and hepatitis.

Though less well-known than its cousin Ebola, Marburg is by no means less deadly. For now it appears to be rarer than Ebola, and to be contained to only a few parts of Africa. In the future it is hoped that successful vaccines will be developed for both Ebola and Marburg fevers.

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