Outbreaks of Marburg virus reported in two African countries lead to ‘unprecedented’ situation

For the first time, two simultaneous outbreaks of the deadly Marburg virus are occurring in Equatorial Guinea and Tanzania.

The Marburg virus, which is closely related to Ebola, has been extremely rare until now. On March 21, Tanzania announced an outbreak of the disease, in addition to the one in Equatorial Guinea on the other side of the African continent.

As of April 6, eight cases have been confirmed, with five fatalities. The US Center for Disease Control has issued a warning, advising doctors in the US to remain aware of the potential for imported cases.

The World Health Organisation has also issued an alert, after inexplicable deaths in villages in the north of Equatorial Guinea.

The official tallies may be underestimating the true impact, as spread has been detected in regions far apart.

Since the Marburg virus was first detected in humans in 1967, it has only emerged in a dozen outbreaks in Africa, with most outbreaks affecting no more than a dozen people.

However, this unprecedented and simultaneous outbreak, its increased detection in countries with improved monitoring systems, coupled with ecological disruptions and climate change, heighten the risk of viral disease becoming more significant.

Nonetheless, the Marburg virus does not spread as easily as Covid-19, and transmission occurs through contact with bodily fluids of infected individuals rather than respiratory droplets.

Currently, the WHO estimates that each of the outbreaks poses a moderate risk at the regional level. Vaccine development is underway, and health authorities are ready to test vaccine candidates in the countries affected.

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