Emergency medical specialists from around the world — including nine U.S. government scientists — are in Angola to battle history’s worst outbreak of a rare viral disease known as Marburg fever, which has killed 194 persons in that African nation.
“Uige Province [in northwestern Angola] remains the epicenter of the outbreak, accounting for almost 90 percent of the cases and deaths,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said on its Web site (www.who.int/en).
Marburg fever is similar to the deadly Ebola virus, which has ravaged parts of Africa in the past 15 years. Both diseases cause fever, diarrhea, vomiting and bleeding from body orifices.
“These viruses are among the most virulent pathogens known to infect humans,” WHO reports.
The Marburg virus is transmitted through contact with bodily fluids, such as blood, excrement, vomit, saliva, sweat, semen and tears. The deadliest previous outbreak occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1998 to 2000 when 128 persons died.
No known treatment is available, and the incubation period typically is from three to nine days.
“But the likelihood of contracting the Marburg virus is very low, unless you have direct contact with a patient who is infected,” said Jennifer Morcone, a spokeswoman for the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention.
WHO said, “Infection through casual contact is thought to be exceedingly rare.”
Nine CDC employees are part of an international response to the Marburg epidemic, which began in October and has grown worse in the past month. The outbreak has reached seven of Angola’s 18 provinces.
Ms. Morcone noted that “global travel allows us to circumnavigate the world in 24 hours” but said, “No travel restrictions are in effect at this time.”
Ms. Morcone said a “great deal of fear” has risen among Angolan locals about the viral outbreak and the health care workers suited up in anti-contamination gear who have come from abroad to fight it.
Some Angolans feared that the visitors brought the epidemic with them. Last week, some locals threw rocks at workers in WHO vehicles as the officials tried to take away infected persons and contaminated bodies. Operations were suspended.
WHO said mobile testing teams resumed efforts Saturday in Uige “following intensive campaigns to improve public understanding of the disease.”
The organization said some improvements are “already apparent” but more are needed.
“Deaths are continuing to occur within the community, as care of patients by family members without adequate protective equipment” and the handling of infected corpses as part of funeral rituals “greatly [increase] the risk of further transmission,” WHO says.