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Outbreak of highly contagious Ebola-like virus a ‘serious concern’ in Ghana

Ghana reports two cases of Marburg for the first time, a haemorrhagic fever with a death rate of up to 88 per cent

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Two people have died in Ghana after contracting a highly contagious Ebola-like virus, sparking a rush to identify potential contacts and squash the outbreak before it spreads.

It is the first time the country has reported cases of Marburg virus, a haemorrhagic fever with a death rate of up to 88 per cent, and only the second outbreak in West Africa.

The patients were identified in Ghana’s southern Ashanti region, but only after they had died – raising fears of broader transmission. The virus is transmitted to people via fruit bats, and spreads between humans through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected people.

“An outbreak of a filovirus such as Marburg is always a serious concern, especially in a setting that hasn’t managed outbreaks before, and when cases are diagnosed postmortem,” said Dr Tom Fletcher, an infectious disease consultant at the Royal Liverpool University hospital.

Whilst Marburg probably doesn’t transmit as easily as Ebola, delayed diagnosis often means that healthcare workers have been exposed and it’s likely there would be cases. We also don’t have as many tools in the cupboard in terms of diagnostics, treatments and vaccines compared to Ebola,” he told the Telegraph.

Marburg virus was first identified in 1967 during two epidemics that occurred concurrently in Marburg and Frankfurt in Germany, and in Belgrade, Serbia. The outbreak was linked to laboratory work using African green monkeys imported from Uganda.

In the decades since, sporadic epidemics have been identified in countries including Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya. The largest outbreak to date was in Angola in 2005, when 374 caught the virus and 329 died – a fatality rate of 88 per cent.

Last year, in the first outbreak to hit West Africa, Guinea also reported one case. Although 170 contacts were monitored, the virus did not spread more broadly.

The World Health Organization said the two patients in Ghana had symptoms including diarrhoea, fever, nausea and vomiting. Samples have been sent to the Institut Pasteur in Senegal, a WHO Collaborating Centre, to confirm the diagnosis.

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The UN agency added late on Thursday that it will send an emergency team to Ghana to try and prevent a serious outbreak.

“We are working closely with the country to ramp up detection, track contacts, be ready to control the spread of the virus,” said Dr Francis Kasolo, WHO representative in Ghana.

The Marburg virus is a top concern for public health officials who are worried about the next pandemic. It has the potential to cause serious public health emergencies but there are currently no vaccines or antiviral treatments approved to treat the virus.

Although fatality rates are high, supportive care that includes rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids can improve chances of survival.

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