Ebola’s Distant Cousin: The Deadly Marburg Virus

By Edward K. Chapnick

A relative of Ebola virus, the Marburg virus, was first identified in Germany in 1967 (ahead of Ebola), with the source being African monkeys brought from Uganda to be used in polio vaccine production. Thirty-one people became ill — initially laboratory workers followed by several medical personnel and family members who had cared for them. Seven deaths were reported.

Both Ebola and Marburg are among the most deadly to humans. They’re rare, but they have a capacity to cause dramatic outbreaks with high fatality. The predominant treatment is general supportive therapy.

Both are transmitted by direct contact with the blood, body fluids, and tissues of infected persons and from handling ill or dead infected wild animals. Both viruses have seen sporadic outbreaks throughout Africa.

Now, whereas Ebola has an incubation period of 2 to 21 days, illness caused by Marburg virus begins abruptly. Many patients develop severe hemorrhagic symptoms between days 5 and 7.

Unlike Ebola, scientists know for sure that the reservoir host of Marburg virus is the fruit bat. In fact, many of the outbreaks have started with mine workers working in bat-infested mines. Researchers need further study to determine if other species also carry the virus.