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Marburg virus disease

Marburg virus disease, formerly known as Marburg virus hemorrhagic fever, disease caused by infection with a Marburg virus, a filovirus that belongs to a family (Filoviridae) of RNA viruses that also includes Ebola virus. Like Ebola, Marburg virus is found in Africa and rarely infects humans, but can cause outbreaks with high mortality rates (roughly 20% to 90%) when it does.

The virus incubates for 2 to 21 days before an infected person develops a high fever, chills, severe headache, and muscle aches, followed after several days by severe diarrhea, abdominal pains, nausea and vomiting; a nonitchy rash on the chest, stomach, and back may also be present. Many patients subsequently develop severe hemorrhaging accompanied by multiorgan dysfunction, delirium and confusion, irritabilty, and shock. Patients are given supportive care; there is no treatment or vaccine for the virus. The virus may persist for some time in survivors of the disease inside the eye, in the testicles and semen in men, in the placenta, amniotic fluid, and fetus in pregnant women, and in breast milk in breastfeeding women.

An outbreak typically begins with a person who has worked in or visited mines and caves where the African fruit bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus), which is believed to be the host for the virus, is found. Human-to-human transmission subsequently most commonly occurs when inadequate precautions have been observed by an infected person's caregivers, as the disease can be acquired from contact with bodily fluids or with contaminated clothing, bedding, surfaces, and the like.

Marburg virus disease was first diagnosed in 1967 in Germany and Serbia (then part of Yugoslavia) when researchers working with infected African green monkeys became infected themselves; the disease then spread to family members and medical personnel. It is unclear if animals other than African fruit bats and nonhuman primates can transmit the virus to humans. Subsequent cases and outbreaks have occurred or originated in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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