Fact checking of the week: Underground messages that recycle pandemic conspiracy frames and narratives

Background

A message entitled „MARBURG – A NEW PANDEMIC” was disseminated in various Facebook groups, on Telegram and through several private messaging applications, such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. The text claims that some organizations – “they” – are planning „the Marburg virus and the next plandemic” and „that they are rushing to develop a vaccine with the most toxic poisons on the planet.” The message is a mixture of some true statements about the Marburg virus and many unsubstantiated statements, based on speculation or innuendos. The Marburg virus was first detected in 1967, and the most recent confirmed infection was identified in Guinea in August 2021. Currently, there are no authorized treatments or vaccines to address the infection caused by Marburg virus. Neither the World Health Organization nor any other organizations have declared Marburg the next pandemic.

The misleading message was spread across Facebook and Telegram groups claiming that „the next plandemic will be the Marburg virus that has a 88% fatality rate”, „Marburg will be as fake as Covid!” and „they’re already rushing to develop a vaccine for Marburg.” The text does not clearly state which organization or structure is „planning the next pandemic”, but mentions that „GAVI (Vaccine Alliance) and WEF (World Economic Forum) structures are already announcing the virus”, „they have already developed a PCR test for Marburg, although there is still no official pandemic”.

Facts

Marburg virus was first detected in 1967, after simultaneous outbreaks in Germany and Serbia. It comes from the same family as the Ebola virus and can lead to haemorrhagic fever, which prevents blood coagulation in both humans and primates. According to World Health Organization, the average Marburg case fatality rate is around 50%. Case fatality rates have varied from 24% to 88% in past outbreaks depending on virus strain and case management.

Following two large outbreaks that occurred in Germany and Serbia, the virus reappeared in several individual cases and outbreaks in different African countries (Uganda, Congo, Kenya, Angola, South Africa). The initial outbreaks of Marburg virus disease were identified in laboratory staff that came into contact with monkeys brought from Uganda, while two independent cases in 2008 were identified in patients in the Netherlands and the US after visiting a cave inhabited by bats in Uganda.

The most recent confirmed infection was identified in Guinea in August 2021, the first known case of Marburg virus disease in West Africa. The only patient with a confirmed case died.

On 11 August 2021, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the case of the deceased patient in Guinea and stated that many of the approaches used to respond to Marburg virus outbreaks were the same as those taken to combat COVID-19: „Isolation and monitoring of suspected cases, investigation of health workers exposed to Marburg cases, in-patient surveillance for Marburg cases, and safe and dignified burial practices in community settings.”

Guinea declared the end of the Marburg virus disease outbreak having recorded no new cases. Many organizations, including some mentioned in the viral message on social media (GAVI or World Economic Forum) have made announcements about recent outbreaks of Marburg virus infections, but have not announced the Marburg virus the next pandemic.

Rating: partially true and misleading

The statement about „the existence of a PCR test for Marburg, even if there is no official pandemic yet” is partially true and misleading. Confirmation that the symptoms are caused by Marburg virus infection are made using several diagnostic methods, including the polymerase chain reaction test (RT-PCR). A test that can quickly determine the cause of an infection is essential in diagnosing diseases, but the existence of such a test is not conditioned by the official announcement of a pandemic.

There are several vaccine candidates against Marburg and Ebola viruses, developed since 2004. Some of these vaccines have been tested on animals, the most recent test being performed in 2020. Currently, there are no vaccines or antiviral treatments approved for the Marburg virus. The viral message claimed without evidence that „many of those who received the Covid vaccine have uncontrollable clots and bleeding” and that when „they will be eye bleeding, this will be claimed to be Marburg!”. There is no evidence to link Marburg virus to COVID-19 vaccines.

In summary, the recipe of this message that went viral mainly through private messaging applications (Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp) is a misleading mix between accurate information about the Marburg virus (mortality rate, diagnosis by RT-PCR method, organizations that reported the recent outbreak in Guinea) and numerous non-factual claims and baseless predictions („Marburg will be fake”, „many of those who received the Covid vaccine have uncontrollable clots and bleeding”, “they developed a PCR test even if there is no pandemic”, “GAVI and WEF are already announcing the virus”, “those who refuse the vaccine will be dragged into concentration camps”).

Tips and tricks for safely navigating digital information

Here are a few simple tips for safely navigating digital information:

  • check the vocabulary that is used to frame a story/ piece of information;
  • be cautious of frames and narratives that have been abundantly employed since the beginning of the pandemic to fuel distrust, suspicion and that promote the ideas that the SARS-CoV-2 virus “is not dangerous”, that “the pandemic was invented”, that „vaccines massively kill people” and that „those who refuse the vaccine will be forced into concentration camps” or sent to „gas chambers”;
  • check the content of the message, search if reputable news outlets, including mainstream, nonpartisan media sources, report on the same content;
  • don’t share content that you cannot be sure it is true;
  • don’t share content that reaches you via underground, below-the-radar channels and whose original source is unclear/ anonymous / impossible to identify.

 Sources:

who.int – Marburg virus disease

cdc.gov – Marburg (Marburg Virus Disease)

ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Response to Imported Case of Marburg Hemorrhagic Fever, the Netherlands

cdc.gov – Imported Case of Marburg Hemorrhagic Fever – Colorado, 2008

who.intMarburg virus disease – Guinea

who.int COVID-19 Virtual Press conference transcript – 11 August 2021

weforum.org – What is Marburg disease?

pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Marburg virus-like particles protect guinea pigs from lethal Marburg virus infection

pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Live attenuated recombinant vaccine protects nonhuman primates against Ebola and Marburg viruses

nature.com – Modified vaccinia Ankara vaccine expressing Marburg virus-like particles protects guinea pigs from lethal Marburg virus infection

aap.com.au – WHO hasn’t declared the Marburg virus the next pandemic

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