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Marburg Virus: What is it, Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Team AckoSept 20, 2023

Marburg Virus (MARV), a rare and potentially fatal hemorrhagic fever virus, belongs to the family of Filoviridae, alongside its more well-known cousin, the Ebola virus. First identified in 1967, this is one of the most virulent and deadliest viruses known to mankind and has caused several documented outbreaks over the past decades, despite its restricted geographical range. This article will explore signs, causes, and treatment of Marburg Virus along with some commonly asked questions.




What is Marburg Virus?

Marburg Virus is a virus, which is a highly infectious virus and can cause hemorrhagic fever in humans and nonhuman primates. It is spread by direct contact with the blood and/or bodily fluids of an infected individual, or through contact with infected animals. 

Signs of Marburg Virus

The list of symptoms of this type of virus is as follows.

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Muscle pain

  • Chills

  • Fatigue

  • Loss of appetite

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Abdominal pain

  • Diarrhoea

  • Rash

  • Chest pain

  • Sore throat

  • Coughing

  • Bloody stools

  • Reddening of the eyes

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Severe bleeding from nose, mouth, and anus

Causes of Marburg Virus

It is caused by coming in contact with a contaminated food product, animal or person. It is spread mainly through contact with bodily fluids or secretions of infected individuals, including blood, saliva, and urine. There have also been rare cases of spread through inhalation or contact with contaminated surfaces.

It is possible to contract the virus through exposure to infected animals, such as monkeys and bats, either through contact with the animal itself or with its faeces. 

Diagnosis of Marburg Virus

Diagnosis of the Marburg Virus includes a physical examination, a review of the patient’s medical history, and laboratory testing. Clinical features of MAAV infection may include fever, fatigue, chills, headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, muscle aches, and joint pain. 

  • Laboratory tests that can be used to detect the MAAV in clinical specimens include enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), and virus isolation. These tests can detect the genetic material of the MAAV in blood, urine, saliva, and tissue samples.

  • Throat and nasal swabs are recommended for patients with severe respiratory distress. 

  • Other tests that may be required include chest x-ray or computed tomography (CT) scans. These tests will assess respiratory organs and the abdomen.

  • Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis to look for infection in the central nervous system may also be performed. 

  • When available, MAAV immunohistochemistry (IHC) staining can detect virus proteins in tissue samples. This test is not routinely available and is used in specialised laboratories. 

  • Urine or blood tests may be done to detect any evidence of the MAAV in the body.

  • Virus isolation via cell culture is the definitive test to identify a Marburg Virus infection. Viral cultures are taken from respiratory, stool, and urine specimens. They are then sent to a laboratory for specialised testing.

  • In areas where the Marburg Virus is endemic, serological tests may be used to identify past or present infection. These tests look for antibodies in the blood that are capable of neutralising the virus or indicate that the virus has been present in the body.

Additional specialised and confirmatory tests may also be needed to make a definitive diagnosis. 

Treatment of Marburg Virus

At present, there is no specific antiviral treatment available for MAAV infection. Treatment of this infection is supportive, with an emphasis on intensive supportive care. This includes meticulous attention to fluid and electrolyte balance, prevention of secondary infection, and careful monitoring of oxygenation and circulatory functions. Following experimental therapies may also be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Convalescent plasma therapy may be used to detect MAAV in individuals who have been exposed to the virus. This involves taking a small sample of blood (blood plasma) from a person who has had symptoms of the infection and injecting it into another person. If the injected person develops antibodies to the virus, it is an indication that they have been exposed to the virus.

Hyperimmune globulins, which are derived from the plasma of individuals who have recovered from Marburg Virus infection, may be used to treat individuals who have contracted the virus. The hyperimmune globulins contain antibodies that can help the infected person fight off the virus.

Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), which are man-made versions of the antibodies found in the blood of individuals who previously had Marburg Virus infection, may also be used to treat the virus. Monoclonal antibodies can target the virus and help the body fight it off.

Although there is currently no specific antiviral treatment available for MAAV infection, several experimental therapies may be used to either detect or treat the virus. It is important to note, however, that these treatments are still in the experimental stages and are only considered on the basis of an individual’s case.

How to prevent contracting Marburg Virus

In order to prevent contracting MAAV, it is vital to take the following preventative measures.

  • Avoid contact with an infected person’s blood, body fluids, and tissues.

  • Wear protective clothing, such as gloves and masks, when in contact with infected persons or with materials that may be contaminated with the virus.

  • Avoid contact with bats and nonhuman primates, since they are the natural hosts of the virus.

  • Practise good hygiene habits at all times, including regular hand-washing.

  • Avoid visiting caves that are inhabited by bats, particularly those located in western or central Africa.

  • People who handle the virus, or who work in the laboratory with infected animals, should follow strict safety guidelines to prevent exposure. 

Outlook of Marburg Virus

Outbreaks of MAAV are rare but may occur in areas with limited medical access or health care education. The World Health Organization (WHO) is actively monitoring and responding to any potential Marburg Virus outbreaks, including providing guidance and resources to help control the spread of the virus.

The prognosis of MAAV is unpredictable, as it is a rare virus and individuals can respond differently to infection. Treatment is largely aimed at managing symptoms and providing supportive care. Early diagnosis and treatment may improve the chances of survival.

Current status and impact on global health

MAAV is a serious and potentially fatal disease. While there have been outbreaks in Africa since 1967, the virus has not caused any reported cases outside of Africa. Marburg Virus is classified as a Select Agent, a potentially hazardous material, by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicating that the MAAV poses a serious threat to global health.

While the virus has not been documented to be widespread, it has the potential to cause deadly outbreaks. The virus has been found to be highly infectious and it can spread quickly from person to person. Its mortality rate has been reported to be as high as 88%. As discussed above, there is no specific treatment for it yet.

Given the severity of the disease and its potential to cause epidemics, countries are taking various steps to prevent it from spreading. These include screening for people travelling from affected areas, enforcing quarantine protocols, and monitoring animal populations in areas where the virus is known to exist. Also, vaccine research is underway to find a way to protect people against the virus.

Take necessary steps

Marburg Virus is a rare disease found in African countries, and the symptoms can be quite severe, including fever, headache, abdominal pain, and rash. It is vital to note that since the virus lives in wild animals, anyone travelling to endemic areas should take precautions and avoid contact with animals and their waste, regardless of whether or not the animal appears to be sick.

With prompt diagnosis and treatment, the overall prognosis of Marburg Virus is generally good, and only a small portion of those infected ever die from the virus. Therefore, it is crucial for people to be aware of the risks and to take the necessary steps to protect themselves and their families in endemic areas. 

Frequently asked questions

Here is a rundown of some common queries along with answers regarding Marburg Virus.


How do you know you caught MARV?

After exposure, a person may experience fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, joint pain, fatigue, and nausea. Within a few days, other symptoms may develop, including jaundice, abdominal pain, abdominal tenderness, vomiting, bloody diarrhoea, a rash, and impaired liver and kidney function. In some cases, the virus may lead to shock, haemorrhaging, and death.

Is there a treatment for Marburg Virus?

Unfortunately, there is currently no known treatment. Supportive care and management of symptoms are the best course of action.

How does MAAV spread?

MARV is a zoonotic virus and is thought to be spread in the natural environment by an unknown animal host. Humans become infected via exposure to infected animals, such as bats, monkeys, or other animals. Spread among humans may occur through close contact with infected individuals or contact with contaminated objects, such as needles and syringes.

How did Marburg Virus get its name?

Named after the German town of Marburg, where the first outbreak occurred in 1967, the virus is a strain of the Filoviridae virus family. It was first identified when laboratory workers who had been exposed to infected African green monkeys developed a severe form of hemorrhagic fever. The strain was determined to be the cause of the illness when an outbreak occurred among a group of laboratory workers from Marburg, Germany.

How long does MAAV last?

The incubation period is anywhere from two to 21 days. The illness usually lasts up to a week and can range from mild to severe. In some cases, it can last up to a month or two.

Which countries have had Marburg Virus outbreaks?

Marburg Virus outbreaks have been reported in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Uganda and South Africa.

How do you avoid Marburg?

The best way to avoid Marburg is to take measures to avoid contact with bodily fluids and contaminated objects. This includes washing hands frequently and avoiding contact with animals or humans who may have been exposed to the virus.

Who is most at risk for MAAV?

Those who travel to endemic areas, health care workers and laboratory personnel are most at risk of contracting this virus.

What part of the body does Marburg affect?

Marburg Virus affects a variety of organs in the body, including the liver, lungs and kidneys. It can cause fever, aches, diarrhoea and vomiting. It can also lead to blood clotting problems and organ failure.

Is there a vaccine for MAAV?

Currently, there is no vaccine for Marburg Virus. Vaccines for related viruses, such as Ebola, are currently being tested.

What are the long term effects of MAAV?

The long term effects of Marburg Virus are not well understood. Some people who recover from MAAV may suffer fatigue and muscle weakness for months or even years after the initial infection. Other long term effects may include psychological trauma, organ damage, and vision problems. In some cases, the virus can cause neurological disorders, including seizures, memory loss, and difficulty with concentration.

Is MAAV airborne?

No, it is not known to be transmitted through the air. It spreads through contact with the blood and other bodily fluids, including saliva and mucus, of infected individuals.

Can you survive hemorrhagic fever?

The survival rate for a hemorrhagic fever depends on the type of virus causing the illness and the person's access to early diagnosis and treatment. With prompt medical care, many cases of a hemorrhagic fever can be successfully treated, and most people can survive. However, without early diagnosis and treatment, the mortality rate can be high.

Is MAAV deadlier than Ebola?

Yes, Marburg Virus is considered considerably more deadly than Ebola Virus.

How does the immune system fight MAAV?

The human body’s first line of defence against Marburg Virus is the immune system. The immune system recognizes the virus and produces antibodies to fight it. These antibodies attach to the virus and prevent it from infecting healthy cells. The immune system also activates other components of the immune system, such as white blood cells, to attack and destroy the virus. In some cases, antiviral medications may be used to further help the body fight Marburg Virus.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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