Deadly Marburg virus outbreak declared in Uganda

Story highlights

  • Marburg virus disease, related to Ebola, causes severe hemorrhagic fever
  • Hundreds may have been exposed to the virus, the WHO says

(CNN)An outbreak of contagious and deadly Marburg virus disease in the Kween district of eastern Uganda was declared by the nation's Ministry of Health on October 19.

Marburg virus disease, which causes severe viral hemorrhagic fever, ranks among the most virulent pathogens known to infect humans, according to the World Health Organization.
    As of Saturday, two confirmed cases, one probable case and two suspected cases have been reported in the Kween district, on the border with Kenya, Tarik Jašarević, a spokesman for the WHO, wrote in an email. The confirmed and probable cases -- two brothers and a sister -- have died.
    The first case detected by the Ministry of Health was a 50-year-old woman who died at a health center of fever, bleeding, vomiting and diarrhea on October 11. One of the woman's brothers died of similar symptoms three weeks earlier and was buried in a traditional ceremony. A game hunter, the man lived near a cave inhabited by Rousettus bats, which are natural hosts of the Marburg virus.
    Laboratory tests at the Uganda Virus Research Institute in Entebbe confirmed that Marburg was the cause of both deaths.
    The WHO, which is working with Ugandan health authorities to contain the outbreak, has followed up with 135 contacts of the patients, Jašarević said. Some positive news has come of these investigations: Blood tests showed no infection in two health care workers who had previously been classified as suspected cases.
    Still, several hundred people may have been exposed to the virus at health facilities and at traditional burial ceremonies in the Kween district, according to the WHO.
    "Marburg is a virus that is in the same family as Ebola, and it basically has very similar characteristics," said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a spokesman for the Infectious Disease Society of America. "So it spreads in blood and body fluids and thrives in areas in which people are not able to do effective infection control and take care of patients with appropriate personal protection equipment."
    Although direct contact with the blood, secretions or other bodily fluids from infected people spreads the disease, touching contaminated surfaces and materials (such as clothing or bedding) may also spread the virus.

    Symptoms and mortality rate

    Once transmitted, the virus incubates for two to 21 days. High fever, severe headache and extreme lethargy are the most prominent symptoms, which may also include muscle aches, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, nausea and vomiting. Hemorrhaging begins between five and seven days after the fever starts. Fatal cases usually have some form of bleeding, often from mult