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New York: WHO ready to curb Ghana Marburg virus outbreak

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New York: The World Health Organization (WHO) has said its ready to control the spread of Marburg virus that has claimed two lives in Ghana.

The WHO defines Marburg as a highly infectious viral haemorrhagic fever in the same family as the more well-known Ebola virus disease. It has no known vaccines or treatments and has a fatality rate of 88 per cent.

The disease is transmitted to people from fruit bats and spreads among humans through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected people, surfaces and materials.

The two patients from Ghana’s southern Ashanti region were both unrelated and showed symptoms including diarrhoea, fever, nausea and vomiting. However, the disease was identified only after their death, the WHO said.

It has sparked serious concerns among health authorities racing to identify potential contacts and squash the outbreak before it spreads.

The WHO said preparations for a possible outbreak response are being set up swiftly as further investigations are underway.

“The health authorities are on the ground investigating the situation and preparing for a possible outbreak response,” said Dr Francis Kasolo, WHO Representative in Ghana, in a statement.

“We are working closely with the country to ramp up detection, track contacts, and be ready to control the spread of the virus,” he added.

It is the first time the country has reported cases of Marburg virus, and only the second outbreak in West Africa. Guinea confirmed a single case in an outbreak that was declared over on September 16, 2021, five weeks after the initial case was detected.

Illness begins abruptly, with high fever, severe headache and malaise. Many patients develop severe haemorrhagic signs within seven days. Case fatality rates have varied from 24 to 88 per cent in past outbreaks depending on virus strain and case management, the WHO said.

“An outbreak of a filovirus such as Marburg is always a serious concern, especially in a setting that hasn’t managed outbreaks before, and when cases are diagnosed postmortem,” Tom Fletcher, an infectious disease consultant at the Royal Liverpool University hospital, was quoted as saying by the The Telegraph.

“Whilst Marburg probably doesn’t transmit as easily as Ebola, delayed diagnosis often means that healthcare workers have been exposed and it’s likely there would be cases. We also don’t have as many tools in the cupboard in terms of diagnostics, treatments and vaccines compared to Ebola,” he added.

Marburg virus was first identified in 1967 during two epidemics that occurred concurrently in Marburg and Frankfurt in Germany, and in Belgrade, Serbia. The outbreak was linked to laboratory work using African green monkeys imported from Uganda.

Since then sporadic epidemics have been identified in countries including Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya. The largest outbreak to date was in Angola in 2005, when 374 caught the virus and 329 died — a fatality rate of 88 per cent.

Although there are no vaccines or antiviral treatments approved to treat the virus, supportive care — rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids — and treatment of specific symptoms improves survival, the WHO said.

A range of potential treatments, including blood products, immune therapies and drug therapies, are being evaluated, the agency noted.

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