Filoviral diseases
Ebola & Marburg, rare but deadly

Filoviruses such as Ebola and Marburg can cause severe hemorrhagic fever in humans and nonhuman primates. Ebolavirus was first identified in 1976 when two outbreaks of Ebola hemorrhagic fever occurred in northern Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) and southern Sudan. Since then Ebolavirus infections have appeared sporadically in Africa. They are the result of contact with contaminated animals.

These diseases are highly contagious and deadly with yearly reoccurring outbreaks. Yearly numbers for the disease are highly variable.



New infections per year








Dead per year

What causes Ebola and Marburg hemorrhagic fevers

Ebolaviruses and marburgviruses are pathogens that cause severe, often fatal, illnesses in humans and non-human primates. The reservoir hosts are bats, while other animals and people are incidental hosts. Humans seem to become infected with marburgviruses mainly in caves or mines harboring bats. Ebolavirus is also found in species of bats but infections are often associated with handling infected nonhuman primates, duikers (a type of small antilope) and possibly other bushmeat.

Ebolavirus is currently organized into five species, while Marburgvirus has two species.

  • Zaire ebolavirus
  • Sudan ebolavirus 
  • Reston ebolavirus (no illness in humans)
  • Taï Forest ebolavirus (Côte d’Ivoire ebolavirus)
  • Bundibugyo ebolavirus
  • Marburg virus
  • Ravn virus
Photo: Epomops franqueti bat, a vector for Ebola

Where are Ebola and Marburg viruses found

Zaire ebolavirus, Sudan ebolavirus, Tai Forest ebolavirus and Bundibugyo ebolavirus are endemic in parts of Africa south of the Sahara desert. Human illnesses caused by these viruses have been reported mainly in central and western Africa, and have typically been associated with rain forests.

Marburg marburgvirus has been found in bats, nonhuman primates and humans from eastern Africa to the far western edge of the Congo. The human illness seems to be most prevalent in eastern Africa.

But these viruses are more widespread. Reston ebolavirus occurs in the Philippines and antibodies to filoviruses have been detected in several species of fruit bats in China and Bangladesh.

Image: Geographical distribution of Filoviral outbreaks (Ebola - Blue, Marburg - Green)

What are the symptoms of Ebola and Marburg infections

Infection results in clinical signs after 3 to 10 days. The onset is sudden and marked by fever, chills, headache, and myalgia. Initial symptoms are often confused with malaria or typhoid fever. A rash on the trunk may appear, along with nausea, vomiting, chest pain, sore throat, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

At a later stage, symptoms become increasingly severe and can include jaundice, inflammation of the pancreas, severe weight loss, delirium, shock, liver failure, massive hemorrhaging, and multi-organ dysfunction.

How can Ebola and Marburg infections​ be prevented

Avoid contact with bats, forest antelopes, nonhuman primates and raw meat prepared from these or unknown animals and bushmeat.

In healthcare settings, avoid contact with items that may have come in contact with an infected person’s blood or body fluids of people who are sick.

During outbreaks, isolation and contact tracing are essential to limit the spread of the disease.

Burials are a frequently indicated as pathways for mass spreading. Burial practices should avoid all contact with the body or fomites.

How are Ebola and Marburg infections diagnosed

Ebola and Marburg viruses can be detected by Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, such as the ones made available by the WoIDM. These are the most commonly used diagnostic methods because of its ability to detect low levels of virus at the onset of an infection.

How are Ebola and Marburg infections treated

Treatment is possible with monoclonal antibodies, but these are experimental and frequently not available in countries that deal with these infections.

Basic interventions in supportive care can significantly improve chances of survival when provided early. These can include providing fluids and electrolytes, supporting blood pressure, reducing vomiting and diarrhea, and managing fever and pain.

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