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Ebola Virus and Marburg Virus Infections


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Reviewed/Revised Feb 2024
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What are Ebola and Marburg virus infections?

  • The viruses infect people mainly in Central and West Africa

  • A few travelers (including health care workers) from other parts of the world have returned home from Africa with Ebola virus infection

  • Ebola and Marburg viruses spread very easily from person to person—you can get the virus from a sick person or a dead body

  • You can get either virus by touching an infected person’s skin or body fluids

  • Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, headache, and later on severe vomiting and bleeding under your skin

  • Recovery takes a long time because the viruses can stay in the body for weeks

What causes Ebola and Marburg virus infection?

Ebola and Marburg viruses usually infect animals living in Central and West Africa. But once they infect people, they can spread rapidly. People can get infected by:

  • Touching or eating infected animals

  • Touching infected people

  • Touching bodies of people who died from the infection

The virus is in almost all body fluids from infected people and animals. This includes blood, saliva, vomit, urine, stool, sweat, breast milk, and semen. You can also get the virus by touching things that have touched any of these fluids, like soiled clothing or bedding. That means you're at high risk if you are:

  • A health care worker

  • A family member of an infected person

  • Someone who touches dead bodies during funeral preparations or ceremonies

What are the symptoms of Ebola and Marburg viruses?

At first, you have symptoms that include:

  • Fever, muscle aches, and headache

  • Sore throat

Within a few days, you become much sicker and may have:

  • Belly pain, severe vomiting, and diarrhea, sometimes with blood in it—this can lead to dehydration (having too little water in your body)

  • Bleeding under your skin (purple spots or patches), from your mouth or nose, or from organs inside your body

  • A rash on your chest and belly

  • Confusion

  • Coma (when you're unconscious and can't be woken up)

In the second week of sickness, people either start to get better or die because their organs stop working. People are more likely to die from Ebola than Marburg virus.

How can doctors tell if I have Ebola or Marburg viruses?

Doctors suspect Ebola or Marburg virus if you're ill and you’re in or have recently traveled to a place where people are infected. To tell for sure, they’ll do:

  • Blood tests

How do doctors treat Ebola and Marburg viruses?

Doctors don’t have an antiviral medicine that cures Ebola or Marburg virus. Experimental medicines are being developed by researchers. Doctors treat the infection by:

  • Giving IV fluids (into your vein) to help prevent dehydration

  • Helping slow or stop bleeding

  • Treating symptoms like pain

Doctors will wear protective clothing and carefully isolate you to prevent spreading the infection to others.

How can I prevent Ebola and Marburg virus infection?

Several vaccines and antiviral drugs have been developed. An Ebola vaccine was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2019.

In parts of the world that have Ebola and Marburg virus, you should:

  • Avoid contact with wild animals, particularly bats and monkeys

  • Don't eat the meat of these animals (unless thoroughly cooked)

If you’re in an area where there’s an Ebola or Marburg virus outbreak:

  • Clean your hands often with soap and water or a hand cleaner that has alcohol in it

  • Don't touch sick people unless you're wearing protective gear, including gloves, gowns, and masks

  • Don't touch the body of a dead person

If you’ve recently traveled to one of these areas, pay close attention to your health for 21 days and see a doctor right away if any symptoms develop.

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