(c) www.politicalresources.net/ africa-map.htm

This map shows the areas of Ebola outbreaks in Africa in red.


Yambuku, Zaire: 1976

Ebola was first discovered in Yambuku, Zaire in 1976. It was spread through the use of contaminated syringes to dispense malaria medication, as well as other drugs, at the Yambuku Mission Hospital, located in the village. People came from all over to the hospital every day for treatment of all sorts of maladies, and went back with satisfaction at Western medicine, and the Ebola virus. The virus that lay quietly inside them would quickly develop into full blown hemorrhagic fever, with a 90% mortality rate. The index case was discovered to be someone who had recently returned from traveling outside of the village, and could have been in contact with bush meat or the animal vector of Ebola. The virus spread far beyond the initial village, causing widespread panic, and global action by public health authorities. Epidemiologists and doctors from all over came to Zaire to help with the epidemic and to learn more about the mysterious new disease. But as mysteriously as it arrived, Ebola soon died out and faded in people’s minds. But this was not the end.

N’zara, Sudan: 1976

At the same time as panic was breaking out in Yambuku and all over Zaire, the southern part of Sudan was also dealing with an epidemic of a strange disease as well, also centered around a hospital facility. Scientists soon made the connection between the epidemics in Zaire and Sudan, and named the two slightly different strains of the virus after the countries where they were discovered. In general, the Sudan strain of Ebola was a little bit more mild than the Zaire strain, with a 50% mortality rate.

After these first initial outbreaks, and smaller ones in the same locations in the few years following, Ebola went back to its dormant state in nature. It stayed there until the 1990’s when again it began to emerge in epidemics throughout areas of Africa. And it has kept coming back ever since.

Reston, Virginia: 1989

The first major outbreak of Ebola outside of Africa occurred right here in the United States, just minutes away from the capital. Monkeys in a quarantine facility in Reston, Virginia became ill with a mysterious virus in 1989. Researchers from the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) investigated the outbreak, and discovered that the symptoms present in the monkeys were very similar to those that monkeys infected with Ebola demonstrated. After running tests and looking at the samples under the electron microscope, scientists were given the jarring results that indeed the monkeys were infected with Ebola, making this the first major epidemic of Ebola in the United States. The research and quarantine facility was designated as a “hot zone.” Scientists from USAMRIID took biosafety level 4 precautions before entering the building and euthanized all the animals and sterilized the entire building with bleach and fumes. No humans showed symptoms of Ebola from this epidemic, although some people exhibited antibodies to the virus after contact.

1990’s and Beyond 

Ebola outbreaks have become more and more frequent in the last 10 years, mostly in the same parts of Africa where the original outbreaks occurred. Between 1994 and 1996, outbreaks of Ebola-Zaire occurred in parts of South Africa, Gabon, and the Congo. The reemergence of the same virus that hadn’t been seen since the 1970’s, and the fact that the virus was almost virtually the same, has scientists concerned by the durability and resilience of the virus.

Also, new strain of Ebola, Ebola-Ivory Coast, was identified in 1994 along the Ivory Coast. At the same time, Ebola-Reston popped up in a few monkey facilities in various places around the world, but still hasn’t proven itself capable of causing illness in humans.

With the dawn of a new millennium brought a clean slate for public health efforts in preventing and curing many of the diseases that plague humanity, Ebola included. However, in 2000, Ebola-Sudan emerged in Uganda, infecting 425 people. And in 2001, Ebola-Zaire appeared again in Gabon and the Congo, infecting 122 people. These recent outbreaks warned humanity that Ebola is still a threat today and everyday. If people do not change their ways, and if the forests that house Ebola’s natural vector continue to be destroyed, people must be prepared for the consequences of another outbreak of Ebola, or a new disease that has remained hidden until now.


In the news recently, there has been concern over the dramatic decline of the populations of great apes in Africa. Originally, this decline was attributed to loss of habitats by deforestation and poaching, but as the ape populations in remote areas of the deep jungle were studied, the decline there was also noticeable and since the areas were too wild for humans to penetrate, researchers have begun to suspect Ebola as a major cause of death. Because of their relatively slow reproduction rate, if the infection is not stopped in the apes, the population could very well never recover from the disease and go extinct.


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