While you may be familiar with the most prominent diseases in your hometown – like the flu, E. coli, C. Diff, or strep throat, for instance – if you’re traveling, you’ll be entering into an entirely new germ ecosystem.

If you plan to travel abroad or you plan to interact with people who have recently been out of the country, take a moment to educate yourself about the most common communicable diseases in other regions.

Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) published their list of priority diseases. Ebola virus disease and Marburg virus disease were among the top three illnesses that have the potential to cause a public health emergency.

Even though the vast majority of cases of Ebola and Marburg viruses occur outside of the United States, the diseases these viruses cause could impact our community. Throughout Texas and the rest of the United States, men and women travel to impoverished nations for religious missions, charity work, and development projects.

Learn the signs, symptoms, and treatment options for the Ebola and Marburg viruses to ensure you and your loved ones stay safe in all your global adventures.

What Is the Ebola Virus?

Both the Ebola and Marburg viruses are fatal viruses that are part of the Filoviridae family. This family of viruses causes hemorrhagic fever in humans and primates.

In 1976, scientists identified the Ebola virus following two Ebola hemorrhagic fever outbreaks in Sudan and what is now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Both were highly lethal.

Unfortunately, the Ebola virus is still active today. From 2014 to 2016, West Africa suffered “the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak ever with over 11,000 deaths,” according to the WHO.

What Is the Marburg Virus?

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the first appearance of the Marburg virus was in Marburg, Germany, in 1967 when several scientists developed hemorrhagic fever after working with green monkeys. Following the outbreak in Marburg – in which 31 people contracted the infection and 7 people died – the virus mysteriously disappeared.

Then, suddenly, it reemerged in 1975 when a traveler picked up the virus in Zimbabwe and eventually fell ill in South Africa. Two major epidemics followed in 1999 and 2005, drawing the attention of scientists and virologists from around the world.

How Are the Viruses Transmitted?

Viruses belonging to the Filoviridae family are zoonotic, which means they can be passed from animals to humans. Historically, researchers have foundFiloviruses in certain species of monkeys. More recently, scientists have discovered the virus in African fruit bats and Rousettus bats in Uganda.

However, the virus can also be spread from person to person, even after a person has recovered from the virus or has died of the virus. Therefore, it is extremely important to recognize and contain the spread of Ebola and Marburg viruses as soon as you suspect any symptoms.

What Are the Symptoms?

Because they come from the same viral family, the effects of Ebola and Marburg virus are quite similar. Symptoms of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Muscle pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Severe headache
  • Unexplained bleeding or bruising
  • Vomiting

Symptoms of Marburg hemorrhagic fever include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Chest pain
  • Chills
  • Delirium
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Jaundice
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea
  • Rash throughout the torso
  • Severe weight loss
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting

The symptoms are similar to those of the flu or malaria. If you or someone you know begins to experience any of these symptoms during or after traveling to any countries within the home range of either disease – including Africa, India, the Philippines, Southeast Asia, and Australia – seek medical attention right away and inform your doctor of where you’ve traveled.  

Though survival is possible, the outcome of contracting either disease is heavily dependent on the patient’s overall health as well as the speed and quality of medical care he or she receives.

Is There a Vaccine?

Unfortunately, there are no vaccines available to the public for either Ebola or Marburg virus currently. However, due to the devastation, these diseases can cause, researchers around the world are working to develop treatments and vaccines.

In fact, in November 2018, the Ministry of Health (MoH) and the WHO gave 2,100 doses of the rVSV-Ebola vaccine to healthcare workers active in the most high-risk areas of the DRC. The rVSV-Ebola vaccine protects against the virus strain that is currently active in many parts of the DRC, specifically.

Initial reports show that the vaccine is having a protective effect on the vaccinated healthcare workers. It may provide hope for finding a more widely applicable vaccination in the near future.

Although scientists must conduct more research before the rVSV-Ebola vaccine is licensed and actively used for the public, researchers and healthcare workers are partnering to use the strain-specific vaccine to stay safe and prevent the spread of Ebola virus.

If you plan to travel abroad, take the time to research your destination. If you are traveling to an area that has been or is currently affected by either the Ebola or the Marburg virus, take precautions.

Have questions about Ebola, Marburg, or other viruses on the WHO’s list of priority diseases? Let us know in the comments below.