(c) www.politicalresources.net/ africa-map.htm
This map shows the areas of Ebola outbreaks in Africa in red.
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.
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
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.
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
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.