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Guinea orders 155 people into quarantine after West Africa’s first case of Marburg virus is detected

Bats congregate in the Bat Cave in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda on Aug. 24, 2018. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientists placed GPS devices on 20 bats from this cave as part of a research project to determine flight patterns and how they transmit the Marburg virus to humans. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

Guinea has ordered 155 people into quarantine after confirming West Africa’s first known case of the Marburg virus, a hemorrhagic fever known as Ebola’s cousin that has killed one person in the nation’s forested south.

Health officials scrambled Tuesday to trace everyone who may have interacted with the patient, who had sought medical help in the town of Gueckedou near the high-traffic border with Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The infection emerged in the same area where the deadliest Ebola epidemic on record began. That 2014-2016 outbreak killed at least 11,325 people across three West African countries. Guinea had just recovered from a smaller scare this year — a resurgence of Ebola in February that claimed 12 lives.

The 155 suspected contact cases are undergoing 21 days of quarantine, Guinea’s Health Ministry said.

“The potential for the Marburg virus to spread far and wide means we need to stop it in its tracks,” Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Africa, said in a 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.”

Fatality rates for the Marburg virus have varied from 24 percent to 88 percent, according to the WHO, depending on the virus strain and quality of care.

Previous outbreaks and sporadic cases have struck Angola, Congo, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda. No vaccines or antiviral treatments have been approved to fight the scourge.

The Marburg virus spreads mainly through bodily fluids. Early symptoms include fever, chills, a headache and muscle pain. Severe cases lead to shock, liver failure and internal bleeding.

The malady is thought to be transmitted to people from fruit bats, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CDC researchers found the Marburg virus in bat colonies for the first time in West Africa in January 2020. Some of the infected creatures, which were tested across four districts in Sierra Leone, carried a strain that resembled one found in Angola about 16 years ago — the deadliest known variant, the scientists noted.

That 2005 outbreak killed 252 people, according to the CDC’s tally. Nine of 10 people who contracted the virus at the time died.

Guinea’s battle against Marburg starts as the country of nearly 13 million struggles against a third wave of the coronavirus. Daily case counts in August are nearing spring highs, as health officials lobby for more vaccines. Health authorities said less than 4 percent of people in the nation are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The man who caught West Africa’s first reported case of Marburg developed symptoms in late July, according to the WHO.

He showed up at a health clinic with a fever, headache, abdominal pain and bleeding around his teeth. By Aug. 2, he was dead.

Health authorities promptly launched an investigation and have heightened disease surveillance on the borders. Three of the people in quarantine are considered “high-risk” contacts, the WHO said — two family members and a health worker.

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