Marburg Virus Outbreak Highly Unlikely to become a Global Pandemic, Expert Says
By Mary Hearty
The Marburg disease outbreak currently in Ghana is highly unlikely to evolve into a global pandemic like COVID-19 disease because the root cause of transmission is limited.
This is according to Dr Michael Owusu, Clinical Microbiologist and a lecturer at the Department of Medical Diagnostics, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, in Kumasi, Ghana during a media briefing with Africa Science Media Centre (AfriSMC).
Dr Owusu said marburg virus can be spread in the country borders while walking through body to body contact and also burials. “When you get marburg, you are more likely to get fever which will make you stay at home, and within a short time, you are likely to become severely ill and then likely die.”
He noted that the cases in Ghana are not linked to any air travel before, instead, they are all linked to possible animal origin which are all over across the whole of Africa. Although researchers are yet to know which animal origin may have transmitted this to humans.
“It is also highly unlikely that symptomatic people can transmit it. In COVID-19 for instance, 60% of the transmission is carried by people who do not show any sign of the disease. They can move with it. But with these other diseases, you are likely to be stationary. So the chances of moving this is highly unlikely,” the clinical microbiologist explained, noting that spill overs mostly occur when moving dead bodies from to border countries for burial.
The first case that was detected in Ghana occurred within the Ashanti region, but in the second case, the body was moved to the Savannah region then two of those who were involved in handling the body later manifested the symptoms.
At the moment, Dr Owusu said Ghana has reported three cases who have become susceptible to this disease as a result of handling people that have died from it.
According to the clinical microbiologist, unlike COVID-19, if one dies of marburg or ebola, the body becomes more infectious, hence it is one of the main ways of transmission.
Marburg virus is a haemorrhagic disease transmitted by a fruit bat commonly referred to as Rousettus aegyptiacus. The bats naturally have these viruses in their body but as they interact with other animals, they are able to transmit them to those animals including rodents. The transmission pattern first starts from the reservoir to the mammals, then to humans, who then transmit it to other humans.
This occurs mostly through contact with broken skin on mucus membrane if people have blood secretions, sweat, saliva and they have to interact through exchange of body fluids cut on your skin, or you can get sweat from somebody put it in your mouth or eyes, even exchanging clothes that are contaminated with fluids, you have a high chance of getting infected by the virus, Dr. Owusu explained.
He further points out that Ghana is currently dealing with one of the strongest viruses which has a potential of causing much outbreak, with a case fatality of 24% to 84% but the government has put up measures to contain it.
One of the strategies that the government is currently using is educating the population, especially in the communities that are affected. People are being sensitized to avoid eating bush meat more so, bat meat as they are natural reservoirs. They are also being advised to cook meat well and not to eat raw
The locals are also being advised not to bury people who have died from unknown cause instead, they need to leave the body for the healthcare authority to handle it.
There is also active campaign on infection prevention and control measures which were applied during the COVID-19 pandemic, like washing your hands or sanitizing your hands, and keeping social distancing.
In terms of diagnosis, Dr Owusu said Ghana has about 70 diagnostic centres that can conduct polymerase chain reaction (PCR) equipment for viruses.
He pointed out that community response is very crucial as people presenting the symptoms should be taken to the health facilities immediately. They should not be managed with local herbs and contact must be avoided with these individuals or protective equipment worn during the contact.