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Marburg Hemorrhagic Fever Claims Over 200 Lives in Angola

Fatalities continue to rise in the outbreak of Marburg hemorrhagic fever in Uige Provence in Angola. So far, the virus has claimed more than 200 lives.

The World Health Organization calls it the worst outbreak of Marburg ever recorded. The virus has killed 90 percent of those infected. Marburg and Ebola are from the same family of viruses. There is no known cure and early treatment provides the best chance of recovery.

At the U.S. National Institutes of Health, Dr. Anthony Fauci is one of the world's leading authorities on infectious diseases. He says the Marburg virus is spread by close contact with an infected person.

"What actually can transmit it is when you get exposed to the bodily secretions or excretions: urine, feces, vomitus, what have you. Certainly, theoretically, it could be a single drop of of sweat, but that's extremely unlikely. What we're talking about is family members or health care providers who are in there taking care of the person as they are vomiting, having diarrhea, bleeding from the mouth. So you have to have very close contact with the individual," says Dr.Fauci.

Some health workers in Angola wear protective gear to keep from getting infected. The WHO is trying to improve early detection and to quarantine people who are infected. Earlier, the WHO's Dr. Mike Ryan said health workers are having an impact on the virus, although it is far from under control.

"We are breaking the chain of transmission. However, this is a very complicated situation. Breaking the cycle of transmission in hemorrhagic fever requires systematic contact tracing, as many of you will have seen during SARS. Doing this kind of detailed day-to-day follow-up of hundreds of contacts in the context of Angola is difficult," says Dr. Ryan.

As with the outbreak of Ebola in Congo in 1998, normal burial rites may have to be avoided. Dr. Ryan says for these efforts to succeed, they have to get the community involved.

Although Marburg is highly infectious, Dr. Fauci says the virus is unlikely to spread around the world like the SARS virus did by air travelers. He says anyone who could transmit the Marburg virus would be too sick to board a plane.