A 30-year-old hospital technician died of the Marburg virus last weekend in Uganda, health officials there announced Sunday. Marburg, which gets its name from the German city where it was first discovered in 1967, is a highly infectious zoonotic (animal-borne) disease similar to the deadly Ebola virus.
According to NBC, the health worker — a radiographer at a hospital in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda — died on September 28, ten days after falling ill. His symptoms included “headache, abdominal pain, vomiting blood and diarrhea,” NBC reports. On Sunday, results confirmed the man had the Marburg virus, the health ministry said.
Officials in Uganda have quarantined a total of 80 people who had been in contact with the victim, one of whom — the man’s brother — has developed the early symptoms of the disease. Sixty of those quarantined are health-care workers.
Marburg virus and the closely related filovirus Ebola cause severe and often fatal hemorrhagic fever — illnesses marked by severe bleeding (hemorrhage), organ failure and, in most cases (up to 9 in 10), death. Both viruses are native to Africa, where sporadic outbreaks have occurred for decades, though Marburg is far more rare than Ebola.
Ebola virus and Marburg virus live in animal hosts, and humans can contract the viruses from infected animals. After the initial transmission, the viruses can spread from person to person through contact with body fluids or contaminated needles. As with Ebola, there are no cures or vaccines for the Marburg virus.
Uganda has a history of hemorrhagic fevers, including an outbreak of Ebola in 2000 that killed at least 224 people over several weeks. Later outbreaks were successfully contained within days and killed far fewer people. Fears are high in light of the ongoing Ebola epidemic that has killed thousands across West Africa, but Ugandan health officials say they are confident that they can contain the current outbreak of Marburg virus by drawing on their past experience fighting Ebola.
In a statement on Twitter, Uganda’s Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda — a physician who used to serve as the country’s health minister — attempted to assuage fears of an Ebola-like outbreak. “Uganda has previously successfully handled similar situations of health threats involving hemorrhagic fevers,” he wrote.
According to the CDC, the most recent Marburg outbreak in Uganda infected 15 people and killed four. The outbreak lasted three weeks. Although Marburg is deadly, it is not particularly easy to catch. If an outbreak is identified early and controlled, it is unlikely to escalate the way the current Ebola outbreak has in West Africa.