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Country battles highly infectious virus as outbreak is declared

Two people in Ghana have died after they tested positive for a highly infectious disease, prompting global health officials to declare an outbreak.

On Tuesday, the World Health Organisation declared the country's first outbreak of the Marburg virus, a disease similar to Ebola.

Earlier this month, two people died from the virus and the WHO has since confirmed the results of their tests.

The first case was a 26-year-old male who checked into a hospital on June 26 and died on June 27.

Kumasi, Ghana - September 06: Road traffic in Kumasi on September 06, 2016 in Kumasi, Ghan
Two people have died in Ghana and the WHO has confirmed they both tested positive for the Marburg virus. Source: Photothek via Getty Images

The second was a 51-year-old male who went to the hospital on June 28 and died the same day, WHO said, adding that both men sought treatment at the same hospital.

Both men were from Ghana's southern Ashanti region and were unrelated.

Marburg virus comes from the same family as Ebola and is a very infectious hemorrhagic fever, spread by fruit bats.

It is transmitted among people through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected people and surfaces.

There have been several major outbreaks of the virus since 1967, mainly in southern and eastern Africa, however, this is the second outbreak of Marburg in West Africa.

The first case in West Africa was detected in Guinea last year and there were no further infections after that first case.

Fatality rates have varied from 24 per cent to 88 per cent in past outbreaks depending on the virus strain and case management, according to the WHO.

World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland
The World Health Organisation has confirmed it is working with local health authorities in Ghana. Source: Keystone via AP

The WHO will support local and national health authorities in Ghana to help with disease surveillance, testing, contact tracing and educating communities.

“Health authorities have responded swiftly, getting a head start preparing for a possible outbreak," Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa said in a statement.

"This is good because, without immediate and decisive action, Marburg can easily get out of hand.

"WHO is on the ground supporting health authorities and now that the outbreak is declared, we are marshalling more resources for the response."

There are now 90 contacts related to the two men who died, including health workers and community members, that are being monitored.

The WHO said there are no vaccines or antiviral treatments that are approved to treat the Marburg virus.

However, supportive care, like rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids and treatment for specific symptoms can improve the chance of survival.

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