Filovirus is the name given to two related viruses that cause severe fevers accompanied by hemorrhaging. These two viruses are known as Marburg and Ebola. Both of these viruses have a high fatality rate – more than 50 percent in some outbreaks but normally between ten and 15 percent – and no known cure.
Both types of filovirus originate in sub-Saharan Africa and are zoonotic, meaning they exist harmlessly in an animal and are transmitted to humans through contact with the animal’s blood, feces, or other tissue. Some researchers believe that some species of bats may be the natural carriers of filovirus, though this has not yet been proven.
Most human cases of filovirus can be traced back to contact with infected monkeys or other primates. Monkeys exhibit the same symptoms of filovirus that humans do; therefore, they cannot be the natural hosts.
Symptoms of Filovirus
Both Marburg and Ebola exhibit similar symptoms, which begin suddenly about five to ten days after the virus is first contracted. An infected person will experience headache, fever, chills. These early symptoms are sometimes followed by the appearance of a rash and then by chest and abdominal pain, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
As symptoms become progressively worse, the person may become delirious and develop liver failure, widespread hemorrhaging, and organ dysfunction.
Recovery from a filovirus infection is usually a lengthy process. Marburg in particular may result in permanent hearing loss or recurrent hepatitis.
Treating and Preventing Filovirus
Because there is no medical cure for filovirus, treatment primarily consists of efforts to keep the patient as comfortable as possible. Hydration and oxygen therapy are given to many patients as they progress through the stages of the illness.
Health care workers who attended a person infected with a filovirus must practice barrier nursing, a technique that prevents any direct contact between the patient and clinical staff. Rubber gloves, face mask, and a full body gown are typically used. These items must be disposed of after each contact with the infected patient.
Any medical equipment used on the patient must be discarded or carefully sterilized before use with another patient. Improper sterilizing of needles and other items has been a primary cause of the widespread filovirus outbreaks in the past.
Items that cannot be sterilized – such as bed sheets and towels – are typically buried in deep pits to prevent transmission of the virus.
Though it causes undeniably severe and deadly diseases, infection with filovirus is fortunately very rare. Check with your health care professional for more information. If you or anyone you know has any symptoms of a filovirus or may have been exposed to any communicable illness, seek professional medical help.