Ghana confirms cases of rare Marburg virus

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Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images The marburg virus, as seen under a microscope.

In Ghana, two people died after testing positive for the rare and highly contagious Marburg virus, the World Health Organization said on Sunday.

Health officials in the West African country said the people both lived in the southern Ashanti region and were not related. Dozens of people who came in contact with them are being monitored, and the WHO has sent specialists and resources to Ghana to help with this outbreak — the country's first.

"Health authorities have responded swiftly, getting a head start preparing for a possible outbreak," Matshidiso Moeti, WHO's regional director for Africa, said. "This is good because without immediate and decisive action, Marburg can easily get out of hand."

Marburg is from the same family as Ebola, and there is no vaccine. Fatality rates can reach nearly 90 percent, the WHO said, and the virus is transmitted to humans from fruit bats. It can spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected people, and bodies can remain contagious at burial. Symptoms begin "abruptly," the WHO said, and include high fever, malaise, muscle aches, and severe headaches.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says cases outside of Africa are "infrequent." The largest outbreak was in Angola in 2005, with more than 200 deaths.

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