A 30-year-old hospital technician died of the Marburg virus this weekend in Uganda, health officials there announced Sunday. Marburg, like Ebola, is a hemorrhagic fever. It's rare but severe.
On Tuesday, Uganda's Ministry of Health said in an emailed statement that testing on 11 potential cases of Marburg came back negative, including that of the victim's brother. Those who still show symptoms similar to Marburg three days from now will be re-tested at that time, the ministry added.
As with Ebola, there is no cure for the virus. And like Ebola, Marburg can have a high death rate for those infected. That's leading many to wonder whether the Marburg case will begin yet another deadly outbreak of a terrifying disease in Africa, even though the bulk of the evidence suggests otherwise.
What is Marburg — and what are the symptoms?
Ebola and Marburg are the exclusive members of the Filovirus family of hemorrhagic fevers.
Marburg has an incubation period of five to 10 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After that, infected individuals can develop a severe headache, myalgia, a fever and chills. Like Ebola, those initial symptoms are similar to many other diseases, including malaria.
After a few days, the symptoms worsen. They can include nausea, vomiting, chest pain, a sore throat, abdominal pain, diarrhea and a rash. Eventually, severe cases progress to "jaundice, inflammation of the pancreas, severe weight loss, delirium, shock, liver failure, massive hemorrhaging and multi-organ dysfunction," the CDC explains.
There's a huge range in the disease's fatality rate in previous outbreaks, from 23 percent to 90 percent.
How do you catch it?
Marbug, like Ebola, is not an airborne virus. The disease is spread through direct contact with the blood, tissues or bodily fluids of an infected person or, as has happened in many cases before, an infected primate or fruit bat.
Although Marburg seems to have its origin in and around Uganda, the first outbreak was actually in Europe: In 1967, laboratory workers in Germany and what was then Yugoslavia fell ill after handling African green monkeys imported from Uganda. There were 31 reported human cases and seven deaths, according to the CDC.
Other outbreaks have originated with travelers who visited caves inhabited by likely vectors of the disease, like the Kitum Cave in Mount Elgon National Park in Kenya. It's believed that fruit bat guano is responsible for passing the disease along to humans in multiple instances.
In 1998, a larger-scale outbreak of Marburg infected 154 people, killing 128. Most of those infected were young males working in a gold mine there, according to the CDC. Another large outbreak in Angola infected 252 people and killed 227 in 2004.
Once a human catches the disease from an animal vector, it spreads person to person through direct contact. Often, as with Ebola, the people who care for human victims of Marburg are at the highest risk of becoming infected themselves.
What's the treatment?
There is no specific treatment for Marburg, nor is there a proven vaccine or cure. Hospitalized patients should receive "general supportive therapy," the World Health Organization notes. That includes treating any complicating infections, balancing fluids and electrolytes and replacing any blood loss.
Because of Marburg's close relation to Ebola, there are experimental treatments being developed by some of the same companies working on Ebola drugs. Tekmira pharmaceutical announced that it had tested a drug on lab monkeys infected with a particularly deadly strain of Marburg. Many of the animals treated with the drug, even after the onset of symptoms, recovered, according to Reuters.
Tekmira makes TKM-Ebola, one of a handful of experimental Ebola treatments used on Americans who caught Ebola in West Africa.
Will the Marburg virus be at the center of the next terrifying outbreak?
We can't predict the future, but this seems extremely unlikely. Uganda has experienced previous outbreaks of both Ebola and Marburg and controlled them. Here's what the country's prime minister had to say about the potential for a large-scale outbreak in his country after the Marburg victim died:
Marburg is a Viral Hemorrhagic fever caused by the Marburg virus. MOH has put in place rigorous surveillance & disease control measures— Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda (@RuhakanaR) October 5, 2014
Ruhakana Rugunda, who became prime minister in 2014, is a physician who used to serve as the country's health minister.
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.
[This post has been updated]