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Marburg Virus Similar to Deadly Ebola

The Marburg virus that has killed more than 100 people in Angola is a severe and highly contagious form of hemorrhagic fever. Marburg is in the same family as the infamous Ebola virus.

The Marburg virus was first discovered in 1967, during simultaneous outbreaks at laboratories in the former Yugoslavia and Frankfurt and Marburg, Germany.

More than 30 people fell ill and seven died. Health officials linked the infections to contact with green monkeys imported from Uganda for research on a polio vaccine.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the Marburg virus is rare, and indigenous to Africa. Cases have occurred in Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Angola. The largest recorded outbreak was in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1998 and 2000, where at least 120 people died.

A Marburg specialist at the CDC, Dr. Michael Bell, says Marburg is less deadly than Ebola, but spread in the same way, through bodily fluids.

"There's an incubation period that comes first, so for five or 10 days you probably won't have any symptoms at all,” said Mr. Bell. “Thereafter, there's the sudden onset of a flu-like illness with fever, chills, headache, muscle aches things like that. And many patients are nauseated, have some vomiting. People who get very ill can be jaundiced; they have very severe abdominal pain. And in a very small number of cases, there is substantial bleeding."

Dr. Bell says about 25 percent of those infected with Marburg die, usually from shock or liver failure.

He explains that because there is no known cure, adequate health care is essential to saving a patient's life.

"The care that we recommend is supportive care,” he added. “In other words, making sure that there is proper nursing and attention to things like hydration and fluid status of the patient while they are trying to recover."

Dr. Bell stresses that caring for Marburg patients requires appropriate protection for health care workers, like gloves and masks, items he says that are often in short supply in the areas where outbreaks occur.