What is Marburg Hemorrhagic (Bleeding) Fever?

Medical Author: Melissa Stoppler, M.D.
Medical Editor: Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.

April 11, 2005 - The world's most deadly outbreak of Marburg hemorrhagic fever is now taking place in Angola. The outbreak has already resulted in nearly 200 deaths.

The Marburg virus, together with the four known Ebola viruses, makes up the virus family known as filoviruses. These viruses cause a rare type of serious illness known as hemorrhagic (bleeding) fever. Marburg hemorrhagic fever can occur in both humans and other primates.

The Marburg virus was discovered in 1967 when some laboratory workers in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany became ill with hemorrhagic fever. Some other medical personnel and family members of those affected also contracted the illness along with researchers in Belgrade, Serbia (formerly Yugoslavia). The outbreak was traced to exposure to African green monkeys which had been sent to Germany for research purposes and for preparation of polio vaccine.

Relatively little is known about the rare Marburg virus, which has only caused sporadic cases of hemorrhagic fever in the decades since its discovery. People have contracted the disease in Africa, but the exact region of Africa to which the virus is native is uncertain. Judging from the outbreaks so far, this region is thought to include parts of Uganda, Kenya and possibly Zimbabwe.