Ebola and Marburg Viruses

1 What are Ebola and Marburg Viruses?

Ebola and Marburg virus cause very severe and highly contagious diseases characterized by severe internal bleeding, which causes organ failure that leads to death.

Once symptoms appear, Ebola and Marburg virus results to rapid progression of illness that causes death if not given immediate medical care.

Infections by Ebola and Marburg viruses have fatality rate of around 90%-95%. Ebola and Marburg viruses resides and also affect animals. From there, the viruses can cross and infect humans through consumption of game or bushmeat. This explains why illnesses caused by Ebola and Marburg viruses are sporadic and appears from time to time. The viruses are passed between humans through body fluids and sharing contaminated needles.

Because these viruses are highly contagious, they tend to cause local outbreaks that can develop into region-wide epidemics.

Currently, there is no single drug approved to treat Ebola and Marburg virus infections. Treatment is usually centered on supporting the patient and addressing symptoms. Vaccines for Ebola is still on development.

2 Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of Marburg and Ebola virus infections are roughly similar.

They usually appear five to ten days after exposure to the virus:

These flu-like symptoms gradually progresses and cause more severe symptoms such as:

  • Diarrhea, sometimes with presence of blood
  • Nausea and vomiting. The vomit may or may not have blood
  • Reddening of the eyes
  • Formation of raised rashes
  • Cough and chest pain, sometimes resulting to expectoration of blood-stained secretions
  • Pain in the stomach, often caused by bleeding
  • Profound weight loss

These symptoms become more severe as the condition progresses. In its advanced stages, the patient may have internal bleeding and pass blood out of the nose, ears and rectum. Death often occurs shortly.

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3 Causes

Ebola and Marbug viruses are infectious, and an occurrence is caused by bacteria traveling from animal to person, or person to person.

Ebola and Marburg viruses are both related to each other and are found naturally in certain species of apes, monkeys and bats. A milder strain of Ebola is found in pigs and monkeys in the Philippines and is not considered to cause disease in humans.

According to studies of outbreaks, Ebola and Marburg viruses jump from animals to humans through contact with blood and waste products. Traditional butchering and consuming apes, monkeys and bats as bushmeat, or examination of carcasses for scientific research, can cause initial Ebola outbreaks.

Marburg virus tends to harbor in bats and has caused infections to tourists and cave explorers through contact with bat urine and feces.

Individuals infected with Ebola or Marburg disease are highly infectious. They can easily pass the disease to their family, caregivers and health workers through contact with blood, urine, and feces. Use of unsterile and used needles is an important cause of epidemics.

In some outbreaks, families tend to catch the disease by tending to their dying or preparing dead relatives for burial. Health workers are also vulnerable because they tend to respond first and often lack protective equipment especially in rural areas.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Making a diagnosis of Ebola and Marburg virus is done by infectious disease specialist.

If you highly suspect you or your family member have symptoms of Ebola or Marburg virus infection, you need to immediately go to the emergency room and call a doctor. Make sure you get referred to an infectious disease specialist. In most countries, being infected with Ebola or Marburg virus is an important public concern. 

If you happen to be in a foreign country, you need to contact your embassy. While travelling, make sure to call a doctor so you can understand how to contain the virus and avoid spread.

Your doctor may ask you to answer questions on things such as:

  • Description of your symptoms and when did they start
  • Recent travel or trips to Africa, where the Ebola and Marburg viruses are endemic
  • Have you hunted or touched monkeys or consumed bushmeat in Africa?
  • Have you gone trips to caves or done exploration in mines or caverns?
  • Have you touched, studied or done any work on monkeys that came from Africa or Philippines?

Having symptoms of Ebola or Marburg virus infection can be very distressful. If possible, bring a friend or family member with you, which can help remember important information that you might have missed.

5 Treatment

Treatment for Ebola and Marburg viruses is largely centered on relieving dehydration and shock and replacing blood lost from bleeding.

Unfortunately, there is no antiviral medication proven to kill Marburg and Ebola viruses.

Your blood pressure and oxygen levels will be closely monitored. You will have to be placed in an isolated treatment facility to reduce chances of further infection and also prevent the spread of viruses.

6 Prevention

Preventing exposure from Ebola and Marburg viruses greatly reduce chances of infection. Remember that Ebola and Marburg viruses are highly contagious, so avoid going into areas in Africa with outbreaks. Check the website of the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which constantly monitors for Ebola and Marburg virus outbreaks and provides warnings and safety tips to travellers.

If you already in Africa, there are simple things that can greatly reduce chances of being infected with Ebola and Marburg virus. Note that the viruses spread via blood, feces, urine and semen. Make sure to wash your hands frequently using soap and water, or with 60% alcohol if those are not available. Avoid eating, touching or processing bush meat, and maintain distance from habitats of bats and monkeys to avoid contamination from animal urine and feces. If you are a health worker, do follow infection control measures such as wearing gloves, masks, gowns and eye shields, keeping patients isolated and observe proper disposal of needles and other infectious materials.

Make sure to avoid contact with persons infected with Ebola or Marburg virus, especially when they are at the late stages. Note that Ebola and Marburg viruses remain highly contagious even if the patient has died, so do not handle human remains. Burying remains of Ebola or Marburg disease patients is done by trained personnel, which makes sure that the viruses have no chance of spreading to others.

Preventing exposure from Ebola and Marburg viruses greatly reduce chances of infection. Remember that Ebola and Marburg viruses are highly contagious, so avoid going into areas in Africa with outbreaks. Check the website of the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which constantly monitors for Ebola and Marburg virus outbreaks and provides warnings and safety tips to travellers.

If you already in Africa, there are simple things that can greatly reduce chances of being infected with Ebola and Marburg virus. Note that the viruses spread via blood, feces, urine and semen. Make sure to wash your hands frequently using soap and water, or with 60% alcohol if those are not available. Avoid eating, touching or processing bush meat, and maintain distance from habitats of bats and monkeys to avoid contamination from animal urine and feces. If you are a health worker, do follow infection control measures such as wearing gloves, masks, gowns and eye shields, keeping patients isolated and observe proper disposal of needles and other infectious materials.

Make sure to avoid contact with persons infected with Ebola or Marburg virus, especially when they are at the late stages. Note that Ebola and Marburg viruses remain highly contagious even if the patient has died, so do not handle human remains. Burying remains of Ebola or Marburg disease patients is done by trained personnel, which makes sure that the viruses have no chance of spreading to others.

7 Risks and Complications

Unless you travelled to Africa, your overall risks for having Ebola or Marburg virus is low. Travelling to Africa is a risk factor because these viruses are endemic in that region and outbreaks there do occur from time to time.

Another risk factor is contact with animals known to harbor the viruses. Individuals who study and do research work monkeys that came from Africa or Philippines are at risk of catching Ebola or Marburg viruses. The same can be said for individuals who hunt, prepare and consume bushmeat in Africa.

Giving medical or personal care to people with Ebola or Marburg virus infection, or assisting those who died from the condition, can enable you to catch the virus.

Family members and nurses of Ebola and Marburg patients are especially at risk, especially if the proper protective equipment is not used.

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