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What is the Marburg Virus?

The Marburg virus is a highly contagious, deadly pathogen that is closely related to the Ebola virus. It is believed to be endemic to eastern Africa, though cases of infection arise worldwide when immigrants and travelers pick up the disease and leave the region. The Marburg virus causes hemorrhagic fever in humans, leading to severe chills, aches, and internal organ damage that is often fatal. Extensive quarantine measures are taken when a patient shows signs of infection to prevent a widespread problem.

Relatively little is known about the origins of the Marburg virus, though it is apparent that humans first contracted it from monkey hosts in Africa around the middle of the 20th century. Primates, bats, pigs, and several other mammals appear to be susceptible to the virus and capable of spreading it to humans. The Marburg virus can be spread from person to person through contact with blood, saliva, or urine. It is a hearty pathogen that can survive on medical equipment, so doctors and nurses must be careful to protect themselves and thoroughly sterilize hospital rooms when treating infected patients.

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Symptoms tend to appear within a few days of infection with the Marburg virus. An individual typically first develops a fever and headache. Flu-like symptoms of joint pain, fatigue, and chills are common. As the virus spreads throughout the body, a person experiences nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and severe abdominal pain. A skin rash may develop and extensive bleeding from the nose, ears, mouth, and other orifices is possible. Without immediate medical attention, a person can go into shock or slip into a coma.

Once a patient is brought to an emergency room, doctors first try to stabilize breathing and heart rhythm. Intravenous fluids and medications help to prevent severe dehydration, jaundice, and massive blood loss. During the course of emergency treatment, blood samples are taken and analyzed in a laboratory to identify the specific type of infectious agent. Once the Marburg virus is identified, hospital workers quarantine the patient in an effort to prevent an epidemic.

There are no set treatment measures to kill the Marburg virus. Antiviral drugs are typically administered to help slow its progression, though current medications are not very effective. By treating symptoms and carefully monitoring a patient's condition, doctors can provide the best possible chances of recovery. Patients who survive the acute phase of the infection may experience lasting complications, such as inflammation of the liver and other internal organs. With ongoing care, survivors typically enjoy full recoveries.

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