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Is Marburg Virus in Angola a Recombinant?

Recombinomics Commentary

April 2, 2005

Comments by WHO on the recent Marburg outbreak in Angola, cited some historical information of Marburg that does not match the current data from Angola.  The Marburg virus is acting much more like Ebola than with Marburg associated characteristics seen in prior outbreaks.  Although both viruses are closely related Filovirdae, they are readily distinguishable.  Initial data on the isolates from Angola indicated that they were not Ebola.  This was confirmed by sequence data showing that the Marburg was in the samples from Angola.

However, Marburg is more frequently found in eastern Africa. The initial Marburg isolate was from African green monkeys shipped to Europe from Uganda.  The largest Marburg outbreak prior to the current outbreak in Angola was in adjacent Democratic Republic of Congo, but it was in the northeast corner of the country, not far from Uganda.  It had a case fatality rate of 82%, but the rate was lower for the smaller outbreaks.

In contrast, the largest Ebola outbreak was also in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire), but it was in the southwestern portion of the country, not far from the current outbreak.  That outbreak had the highest case fatality rate (88%), but the outbreak in Angola, is even higher, currently at 100%.

Thus, the size of the outbreak, as well as location and case fatality rate all look like Ebola, yet the genetic sequence of the virus is Marburg.

Although quality medical care can influence the fatality rate and aggressive contract tracing and quarantine can limit the size of the outbreak, the current Marburg in Angola looks much more like prior large Ebola outbreaks. 

These observations raise the possibility that the Marburg virus in Angola is a recombinant and has genetically picked up some of the traits associated with Ebola.

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