A man died in West Africa of a virus that causes internal bleeding and organ failure. The WHO says it has the potential to ‘spread far and wide.’

field researcher WHO
The World Health Organization has confirmed a man’s death from the highly infectious Marburg virus, which can be passed to humans from fruit bats. World Health Organization
  • A man in Guinea, West Africa, has died of the Marburg virus, which causes internal bleeding and organ failure.

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) said the disease has the potential to spread far and wide.

  • The disease can be passed to humans from fruit bats, says the WHO.

  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A man in Guinea, West Africa, has died after contracting the Marburg virus, which causes internal bleeding and organ failure. The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed the man’s death on August 9 and said the “highly infectious disease” has the potential to “spread far and wide.”

This marks the first time the Marburg virus has ever been detected in Guinea, per the WHO.

According to the WHO, the man visited a local clinic to seek treatment, but his condition deteriorated quickly before his death. Researchers at Guinea’s national hemorrhagic fever laboratory and the Institute Pasteur in Senegal have confirmed the man’s Marburg virus diagnosis.

The WHO said the virus can be passed to people from fruit bats and is transmitted from one person to another through surfaces and bodily fluids.

The organization said the illness tends to begin with an abrupt and sudden onset of high fever and headaches, with severe internal bleeding occurring within seven days. The WHO currently pegs the fatality rate between 24% and 88%.

“We applaud the alertness and the quick investigative action by Guinea’s health workers,” Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director in Africa, said in the organization’s August 9 statement.

“We are working with the health authorities to implement a swift response that builds on Guinea’s past experience and expertise in managing Ebola, which is transmitted in a similar way,” Moeti said.

Contact tracing efforts are underway to identify the deceased’s close associates. In an interview with Reuters on August 10, Georges Ki-Zerbo, the WHO country head in Guinea, said 155 people were identified as close contacts. They will be observed, he said, for three weeks.

“It is active surveillance. The contacts are kept at home, isolated from other members of the family. They are visited every day to check on potential symptoms,” Ki-Zerbo told Reuters.

“Globally, the approach to combating Marburg would not be different from Ebola. The only difference is that there is no vaccine or drug specifically directed to the virus. Only supportive care is available,” he said.

The WHO said the Marburg virus is from the same virus family as Ebola, which has a 50% fatality rate. A 2014 outbreak of Ebola saw 28,600 infections and 11,300 recorded deaths across Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

Gueckedou, the prefecture in Guinea where the man died of the Marburg virus, is the same place where the 2021 Ebola outbreak in Guinea was first detected, said the WHO.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Marburg virus was first identified in 1967 after scientists working at labs in Marburg and Frankfurt in Germany and Belgrade, Serbia, fell ill. In total, 32 people were infected and seven deaths were reported at the time. The CDC said the virus was traced back to scientists who had been exposed to the tissues of imported African green monkeys during their research.

However, fruit bats remain the “reservoir (hosts)” of the Marburg virus, but do not show obvious signs of illness even when they are carrying the disease, per the CDC.

As of August 9, Guinea reported a total of 27,112 COVID-19 cases and 263 deaths, with a weekly average of 150 new cases a day. Only 2.67% of Guinea’s population has been fully vaccinated.

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