The Government of Equatorial Guinea has declared a health alert on Monday for an outbreak of the Marburg virus disease that has caused the death of nine people in the province of Kie Ntem, on the mainland and near the border with Cameroon, according to a statement from the Minister of Health, Mitoha Ondo’o Akeyaba. In addition, there are 16 people who were in contact with the deceased who are isolated in various hospitals and, to prevent the spread of the outbreak, the Government has decreed that 4,325 people remain in quarantine at home. Marburg hemorrhagic fever is a disease similar to Ebola, with a high lethality, and is also caused by a virus whose host is the fruit bat.
The outbreak was detected at the beginning of February in the Nsok Nsomo district of Kie Ntem province after, in the previous weeks, there had been several suspicious deaths of people suffering from fevers, general malaise, vomiting blood and diarrhoea. This “unusual epidemiological situation”, according to the Ministry of Health itself, led the regional authorities to inform the central government on February 7, which set up a crisis committee that includes experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) present. in Equatorial Guinea, and drew up a first contingency and immediate response plan, which determined the limitation of movements to and from the Nsok Nsomo district affected by the outbreak.
A team of health workers went to the affected area and took samples from eight patients, who were sent to the Interdisciplinary Center for Medical Research in Franceville, in Gabon. All of them tested negative for both Ebola and Marburg. However, due to the death of more people, another eight samples were sent to the Pasteur Institute in Dakar, in Senegal, where one of them tested positive for Marburg. The director of the WHO for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, assured in a statement that this virus is “highly infectious. Thanks to the quick and decisive action by the Equatorial Guinean authorities in confirming the disease, the emergency response can be rapidly accelerated so that we can save lives and stop the virus as soon as possible.”
It is a serious and often fatal disease, according to the WHO, with an average fatality rate of 50%, which can be as high as 88% depending on the viral strain and the management of the outbreak. Although there is no specific treatment or vaccine for Marburg virus disease, rehydration and early treatment of symptoms have been shown to reduce mortality. This disease, caused by a virus from the same family as Ebola, was first detected in 1967 in the German cities of Marburg, hence its name, and Frankfurt, as well as in Belgrade (Serbia). These outbreaks were caused by laboratory work with African green monkeys imported from Uganda.
Until now, outbreaks of Marburg fever have occurred in Angola, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and South Africa, although in the latter country through a person who had traveled to Zimbabwe. It is the first time that Equatorial Guinea has experienced an outbreak of this disease. After the jump of the virus from the infected animal to the human being or zoonosis, transmission between people occurs through direct contact with fluids from the sick, as well as with surfaces contaminated by said fluids. As with Ebola, the unprotected handling of the corpses of deceased people is usually a source of contagion.
Given the first news of deaths in Equatorial Guinea, the neighboring republic of Cameroon decided last weekend to restrict movements between the two countries across its border, all without knowing at the time that it was an outbreak of Marburg fever. . The restrictions were imposed “in view of the high risk of importation of this disease and in order to detect and respond to any cases at an early stage,” the Cameroonian ministry said in a statement.