- Sai Charan
The Strange Case of Marburg
The Kitum Cave is one of nature’s finest works. Located in Mount Elgon, passing near the Uganda-Kenya border, it's well known for its dig-and-get walls - animals, including elephants, break off parts of the cave to get sodium-rich minerals. Go deeper, and you’ll find an abundance of bat guano, the fertile excretory dumps of bats. On New Year, 1980, Jack Miller [real name not mentioned] traveled through the cave, exclaiming its natural beauty with his friend. He was a French man by nationality, an interesting yet isolated personality who kept himself in solidarity with nature. As he left the cave, he probably felt euphoric, and happy at the sight. Little would he know that he got more than he bargained for. Much more.
A week later, on January 8, 1980, he began to have recurring headaches. Unable to work, he decided to rest two days off. On the third day, his skin’s appearance changed completely – yellow, dry, and sprinkled with red freckles. His office colleagues were worried about his disappearance and found a weak and extremely sick version of him in his bungalow. They drove him to a private hospital in the city of Kisumu, but the doctors there were stumped at whatever happened to him. On their advice, they drove him to the best hospital in East Africa – Nairobi hospital. To get there, he had to go through a taxi and a 4-hour flight. The flight was a Fokker Friendship, a 2-propeller 35-seater. By now, he had completely changed. Weak and sick, he could barely move. In the middle of the flight, he had to use his barf-bag to hold his dark-black blood vomit, dripping from his mouth like a waterfall. As he handed it to the flight attendant, blood started flowing out of his nose, like a river. He collapsed down, unaware of his surroundings, unaware that he wouldn’t live for more than 24 hours.
Miller woke up very delirious, at the entrance of the Nairobi hospital. Shem Musoke, an energetic young doctor, rushed to Miller, and checked his pulse, just as Miller exploded. Vomiting out his insides, the fluid sprays across Musoke, across the floor, and even a few drops on the roof. Musoke died less than a month later.
Musoke’s autopsies were quite astonishing to doctors – his liver was swollen and bloody, and most of his insides were ‘dissolved’.
So, what had happened to Miller and Musoke, and when will it strike next?
When Jack Miller admired the cave, tiny droplets of bat guano, filled with Marburg viruses, entered his bloodstream through inhalation. The virus multiplied rapidly, and symptoms began in a week. The virus made Miller’s blood as a hot zone, where the virus multiplied rapidly, ready to find a new host – Musoke. An expedition led by scientists, in the 20th century was fruitless, and no evidence of any virus was found. In 2007, solid evidence of the virus was found in fruit bat guano in caves nearby. An expedition confirmed this, and the culprit was finally found to be the bat guano, which was a living stock of the virus.
The virus was found to be Marburg, which had first been discovered in 1967 as minor outbreaks in German cities of Marburg and Frankfurt. The strain of the virus was named the ‘Musoke’ strain, after the doctor who lost his life due to it. It is of the family ‘Filoviridae’ and shares its heritage with the Ebola virus. There is no specific cure for the virus; only supportive treatment and blood replacement work out best. Vaccines have been created for it, but they are still in their initial stages, which means that they would only probably be used for emergency purposes. The last major outbreak of the Filoviridae virus family was in 2014, the Ebola Virus strain; it was successfully resisted, but not without taking away the lives of 4877 people. The most dangerous virus of the Filoviridae family is Ebola Zaire, which has a mortality rate of 90%, which means 9 out of 10 people who catch it could die. Ebola is mainly spread through bodily fluids; it cannot spread through the air, like COVID-19.
Note from Author(s): This short article is about the Marburg virus, and its family of viruses, Filoviridae. All information provided is true, taken from reliable sources.
Author(s): Adithya Acharya and Siddharth Acharya
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