Ebola-like virus returns to Europe15th July 2008
A Dutch woman has died of Marburg virus, the first documented case of the Ebola-like haemorrhagic fever in Europe in 40 years.
The 40 year-old woman came down with symptoms on 2 July after returning from Uganda, where she visited caves where she might have been exposed to the virus in fruit bats.
She died in an isolation ward in a Leiden hospital on 11 July. Human-to-human transmission of Marburg occurs only from close contact with an infected person after they have developed symptoms.
Early symptoms include fever and chills, followed by more severe symptoms like liver failure and bleeding from multiple sites.
Marburg was first reported in the city of that name in 1967, having originated in living monkeys at a research facility. It killed 31 people in Marburg, Frankfurt and Belgrade.
An outbreak in South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola in 2004-2005 killed 355 of the 399 people it infected.
Recent research has shown cave-dwelling fruit bats as the likely animal reservoir for the virus, who may in turn pass it on to other bats who don't stick to caves.
In 2007, a team of virus hunters found fragments of the virus’s genome in a species called Rousettus aegyptiacus. The species also showed signs of an immune response against Marburg, which is unlikely to cause symptoms in the bats.
Furthermore, Peter Walsh of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, says the virus may have ways of getting out of the caves, as there are genetic similarities between viruses found from Gabon to Angola.
Recent African outbreaks of Marburg have killed 80 to 90% of those infected. There is no cure, and, like Ebola, patients often die of haemorrhaging and massive organ failure.
Plans are in the pipeline for a vaccine using genetic material or proteins from the Marburg virus, stitched into a cold virus, although none has yet tested successfully in humans.
In the meantime, experts are warning people to stay out of bat caves in African countries where the virus has already surfaced.
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