Equatorial Guinea announced its first outbreak of the Marburg virus, a highly infectious disease similar to Ebola, the World Health Organization said in a statement Monday.
The small central African nation of about 1.6 million people reported nine deaths and 16 more suspected cases after a sample sent to a laboratory in Senegal on February 7 came back positive.
Health Minister Mitoha Ondo’o Ayekaba told reporters that a health alert had been declared in Kie-Ntem province and the neighboring district of Mongomo, after consulting with the World Health Organization and the United Nations, Agence France-Presse reported.
The nine deaths occurred between January 7 and February 7, Ayekaba said.
The Marburg virus has a fatality rate of up to 88% and spreads from person to person through direct contact with bodily fluids, WHO said. The disease comes from the same family of viruses as Ebola. Symptoms consist of high fever and severe headache, with many patients developing hemorrhagic symptoms within seven days.
WHO said officials have been deployed in Equatorial Guinea to “trace contacts, isolate and provide medical care to people showing symptoms of the disease.”
“Marburg is highly infectious. Thanks to the rapid and decisive action by the Equatorial Guinean authorities in confirming the disease, emergency response can get to full steam quickly so that we save lives and halt the virus as soon as possible,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa.
WHO said there are currently no vaccines or antiviral treatments for the virus. However, oral rehydration therapy and treatment of certain symptoms can improve chances of survival, it added.
Some material for this report came from The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.