Marburg Virus Disease: What Is It? What Can Be Done About It?


Recently, an outbreak of Marburg virus disease occurred in Equatorial Guinea. Infection Control Today® learned more about this rare but severe and often fatal disease and what is being done to combat it.

Marburg Virus Disease (MVD), a rare but deadly disease, is in the same family as Ebola. Still, with a fatality rate of up to 88%, infectious disease experts pay attention when an outbreak happens anywhere in the world. An MVD outbreak was confirmed on February 12, 2023, in Equatorial Guinea, the first to be located there. As of this writing, all 9 confirmed cases have been fatal.

But what are the symptoms and treatments of MVD, and what is being done to combat this disease in the future? To find out, Infection Control Today® (ICT®) spoke with Joseph Hernandez, MSc, MBA, MS, and the CEO of Blue Water Vaccines, about what MVD is and what Blue Water Vaccines is doing to create a vaccine candidate to target MVD to prevent future outbreaks.

MVD is named because of the 2 large simultaneous outbreaks in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany, and Belgrade, Serbia, in 1967. These outbreaks, which led to the initial recognition of the disease, were associated with laboratory work using African green monkeys imported from Uganda.

According to the World Health Organization, “Human infection with [MVD] initially results from prolonged exposure to mines or caves inhabited by Rousettus bat colonies. Once an individual is infected with the virus, [MVD] can spread through human-to-human transmission via direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs, or other bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials (eg bedding, clothing) contaminated with these fluids.”

Hernandez told ICT that MVD “starts very similarly to some other diseases—typical chills and fevers, and then it evolves within 21 days or so into rashes and, ultimately, into hemorrhagic conditions, which effectively means you start bleeding internally and has a very high mortality rate….it carries a very high burden of death, which is why we pay so much attention to it.”

Ironically, Hernandez said, the fact that MVD has a high mortality rate “is a good thing in one sense because it doesn't give the virus a long ability to infect very large populations because effectively, the vector of the infected patient dies [in contrast to] these slow-evolving diseases [like COVID-19], where the patient who may have a disease with a long incubation period can walk around and transmit the virus. There's a double-edged sword related to the mortality rate.”

Hopefully, hope is on the horizon. Hernandez told ICT about Blue Water Vaccines partnering with AbVacc to develop an effective MVD vaccine.

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