Marburg (a deadly hemorrhagic virus)

Sometime in August 1967, three factory employees engaged with the vaccine-manufacturing firm Behring Works suddenly developed muscle pain and mild fevers. Initially, the physicians who attended on these ailing workers were of the opinion that they might have developed some kind of influenza. However, as the days passed and these workers were still not cured of their illness, it became obvious that they were not suffering from any type of flu. Gradually, the affected workers were experiencing nausea and vomiting. Soon, they also developed diarrhea. Simultaneously, they developed symptoms, such as bloodshot eyes and painful red rashes. This was a fall-out of the blood clots formed in several thousand capillaries just beneath the skin. Their throats became so sore that they were unable to swallow and needed to be fed by means of intravenous injections. However, this was only the beginning of a deadly infective ailment, as the virus responsible for the contagion was simply limbering up. In ten days from the time the symptoms first appeared, these workers started vomiting and discharging blood.

In fact, numerous shattering viral contagions, including Marburg and Ebola, are called hemorrhagic fevers as the patients begin to bleed profusely during the last phase of the ailments. When the clotting aspects of the body becomes weak, blood discharge begins from every opening of the body carrying along layers of dead tissues. In such cases, blood and Marburg viruses spurt in every direction. This is a contagious disease and in case any other person comes in contact with the infected blood, it will result in a fresh cycle of infection by the virus all over again.

Altogether, the Marburg virus affected as many as 31 Europeans and after this the virus disappeared all of a sudden, almost as unexpectedly as it had emerged. After the virus had left its scar, or, more precisely, following the consequences of the viral attack, scientists worked frenetically to find answers to some of the most fundamental queries in their mind. They wondered about the type of virus that created such devastation and the place of its origin. Well, the scientists found the answer to the second question first. They soon learnt that all the people who were infected by the deadly virus in the initial stages of the spread of the disease were either dealing with monkeys or monkey tissues. In addition, the scientists discovered that all the monkeys belonged to the species of the African green monkeys and were imported from Uganda by ships in three different batches. It may be mentioned here that pharmaceutical firms manufacturing polio inoculation ought to make use of monkeys to make their products, as poliovirus are able to develop only within the monkey kidney cells. Every year around 16,000 monkeys are imported to the United States only for this purpose, but nothing such was ever reported. Hence, it may be concluded that there was something wrong with the batches of monkeys that were sent to Germany in 1967.

Needless to say that several people who had been infected by this virus succumbed to massive hemorrhages or profuse loss of blood from their body. In fact, the cause of deaths of hundreds of monkeys in their native places in the jungles of Africa, have accidentally been imported to Europe and the virus was being transmitted to a new species - the humans. The new virus was now developing in a new place and, in general, when any virus transmits to a new animal species it usually proves to be exceptionally deadly. This is primarily owing to the fact that the new host of the virus had never been exposed to the pathogen earlier and it is usually already too late when the immune system of the host becomes active to combat the microorganism. It was on the basis of this that the scientists did not consider the African green monkeys to be the natural host of the Marburg virus. In fact, they found out that compared to the human victims, this virus had proved to be much more overwhelming for these monkeys when it first infected them. Actually, the virus had killed them with full fierceness when it first invades the apes. Scientists were of the view that most probably there still was a pool of the Marburg viruses concealed in some yet to be known animal native to the rain forest.

During the subsequent years, the World Health Organization and the United States along with a number of nations in Europe dispatched teams of scientists to Uganda and Kenya to hunt the rural areas to find the animal that could be the natural host of the Marburg virus. During the course of their investigations, the scientists nabbed and examined several thousand organisms, including apes, monkeys, mice, bats, cats, ticks and even mosquitoes. However, it is regrettable that the scientists were unable to find the animal that was the natural host of the Marburg virus, as it remained obscure. Neither could they discover the existence of any pool for the virus.

Although the scientists failed to identify, let alone catch the living organism that is supposed to be the original host of the Marburg virus, the electron micrographs of tissue and blood samples collected from those infected by the virus revealed that notwithstanding its hiding place, this virus was different from the others. One major difference is the shape of the virus. While majority of the viruses have a spherical or an ovular form, Marburg appeared to resemble a small piece of thread. And when the virus multiplies itself inside a cell by replicating several thousand viral copies, it looked like a bowl of enmeshed spaghetti. Owing to its appearance, scientists named the virus as filovirus, getting the name from the Latin term 'filo' denoting a 'thread'. In fact, there is no other virus that has an appearance like the Marburg.

The Marburg virus first struck in Germany in 1967 and since then it has only infected humans on two occasions, second time in 1976 and the last time in 1990. During the subsequent attacks by the virus, altogether four people, all Europeans, were infected. And, interestingly enough, all the four victims came in contact with the virus while they were traveling in Africa. Among these four patients, one person succumbed to the disease. Presently, the virus has been frozen and preserved in a number of laboratories across the world.

Unfortunately, scientists are no longer enthusiastically engaged in undertaking further researches involving the Marburg virus simple owing to the fact that it is too 'hot'. It may be mentioned here that a virus is known as 'hot' when it has the aptitude to transmit by far, claims its victim's life with a high humanity rate and does not have any remedy or preventive vaccine. Among the 'hot' viruses, Marburg is ranked on the upper side and it needs extremely specialized handling. While treating patients infected by the virus, physicians need to wear heavy dresses something resembling spacesuits that have independent air supplies to avoid any direct contact with the disease-bearing virus with any part of their body. The doctors also need to wear extra rubber gloves below their suit and often also over the suit as additional fortification against any accidental slashes or perforations when they are working with surgical instruments, such as scalpels and hypodermic needles. On the other hand, animals and tissue samples infected by the virus are usually dealt with in hermetically sealed glass or steel boxes with lastingly fixed gloves.

According to statistics available, the deadly virus has claimed about 25 per cent lives of patients it has infected and this makes Marburg one of the deadliest viruses known. In fact, humanity has witnessed several devastating plagues and very few among them had such a high mortality rate. For instance, yellow fever is a lethal viral ailment caused by a single bite of a female mosquito (incidentally, male mosquitoes never sting) and transmitted easily, normally claimed one out of every ten persons it infected. In spite of this, the Marburg still cannot be called the most horrible hemorrhagic fevers that have emerged from the rain forests of Africa. In fact, around nine years after the Marburg virus first invaded the humans in 1967, another virus, more lethal compared to this virus, struck the people in the central African countries of Sudan and Zaire. This fatal virus was later named Ebola.



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