Equatorial Guinea announced its first ever outbreak of the Marburg virus, a highly infectious disease similar to Ebola, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement Monday.
The 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 neighbouring district of Mongomo, after consulting with WHO and the United Nations, Agence France-Presse reported.
According to WHO, the Marburg virus has a fatality rate of up to 88% and spreads from person to person through direct contact with bodily fluids. As with Ebola, the virus that causes the disease belongs to the same family of viruses.
WHO said officials have been deployed in Equatorial Guinea to “trace contacts, isolate and provide medical care to people showing symptoms of the disease.”
More than 200 people have been quarantined and their movement restricted last week in its Kie-Ntem province, where the haemorrhagic fever was first detected.
“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.
The disease is believed to have spread to the neighboring countries after Cameroonian authorities detected two suspected cases of Marburg disease on Monday in Olamze, a commune on the border with Equatorial Guinea.
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.