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Marburg Hemorrhagic Fever: Fact Sheet

What is Marburg hemorrhagic fever?

Marburg hemorrhagic fever is a rare, severe type of hemorrhagic fever which affects both humans and non-human primates. Caused by a genetically unique zoonotic (that is, animal-borne) RNA virus of the filovirus family, its recognition led to the creation of this virus family. The four species of Ebola virus are the only other known members of the filovirus family.

Marburg virus was first recognized in 1967, when outbreaks of hemorrhagic fever occurred simultaneously in laboratories in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany and in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia). A total of 37 people became ill; they included laboratory workers as well as several medical personnel and family members who had cared for them. The first people infected had been exposed to African green monkeys or their tissues. In Marburg, the monkeys had been imported for research and to prepare polio vaccine.

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Where do cases of Marburg hemorrhagic fever occur?

Recorded cases of the disease are rare, and have appeared in only a few locations. While the 1967 outbreak occurred in Europe, the disease agent had arrived with imported monkeys from Uganda. No other case was recorded until 1975, when a traveler most likely exposed in Zimbabwe became ill in Johannesburg, South Africa - and passed the virus to his travelling companion and a nurse. 1980 saw two other cases, one in Western Kenya not far from the Ugandan source of the monkeys implicated in the 1967 outbreak. This patient's attending physician in Nairobi became the second case. Another human Marburg infection was recognized in 1987 when a young man who had traveled extensively in Kenya, including western Kenya, became ill and later died.

Where is Marburg virus found?

Marburg virus is indigenous to Africa. While the geographic area to which it is native is unknown, this area appears to include at least parts of Uganda and Western Kenya, and perhaps Zimbabwe. As with Ebola virus, the actual animal host for Marburg virus also remains a mystery. Both of the men infected in 1980 in western Kenya had traveled extensively, including making a visit to a cave, in that region. The cave was investigated by placing sentinels animals inside to see if they would become infected, and by taking samples from numerous animals and arthropods trapped during the investigation. The investigation yielded no virus: The sentinel animals remained healthy and no virus isolations from the samples obtained have been reported.

How do humans get Marburg hemorrhagic fever?

Just how the animal host first transmits Marburg virus to humans is unknown. However, as with some other viruses which cause viral hemorrhagic fever, humans who become ill with Marburg hemorrhagic fever may spread the virus to other people. This may happen in several ways. Persons handling infected monkeys who come into direct contact with them or their fluids or cell cultures, have become infected. Spread of the virus between humans has occurred in a setting of close contact, often in a hospital. Droplets of body fluids, or direct contact with persons, equipment, or other objects contaminated with infectious blood or tissues are all highly suspect as sources of disease.

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