March 1, 1996
Imagine going on vacation to a foreign country and when you come home you
are horribly sick. Your head hurts, you have a highfever, and you start
vomiting. Chances are that you may havecontracted the Ebola virus.
Ebola was first discovered in the village of Yambuku(1) nearthe Ebola River
in Zaire. Since its discovery, there have beenfour outbreaks of this disease.
There are three known strains, ofvariations of ebola. There is no known cure for
this disease(2).Ebola has become one of the most mysterious and feared viruses
onthe face of this earth.
Ebola’s first documented appearance was in Zaire in 1976. Noone knows
where ebola comes from or what the original host is.However, scientists know
that man is not ebola’s natural host(3).The host was first suspected of being
carried by monkeys in the African rain forests(4), but in one case the monkeys
at a holding facility broke out and had to be killed.
In the pursuit of a cure and an origin, there have beenseveral teams of
scientists whose top priority is to find theviruses origin(5). The teams have
trekked through the rainforests of Africa to collecting different species of
animals,bugs, and plant life. Bugs are also collected from the hospitals and
from the surrounding huts of the villages. So far 36,000specimens have been
collected. Once they have been gathered, the specimens are put into liquid
nitrogen and flown back to theUnited States, where they are studied at the
Centers for DiseaseControl in Atlanta Georgia and the Army Medical Research
Instituteof Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick Md.,(6). Researchers have
discovered the source of human infection for all level fourorganisms except
ebola(7). This means that all organisns that cause deadly viruses have been
contained and studied, and have had antibodies created to ward of the illnesses
that are caused.Although Ebola is a mystery to humans, the virus is
relatively hard to catch and it kills quickly, lessening the chance victims will
infect others. It is transmitted by contactwith bodily fluids like blood, vomit
and semen or contaminated syringes and is not known to be passed along through
When the first outbreak of ebola occurred, it was in 1976 in Zaire and in
Sudan at the same time. There were 318 cases reported in Zaire and 240 of those
cases proved to be fatal. In Sudan, there were 284 cases and 134 of those cases
proved to befatal. In 1979, there was another small epidemic in the same region
of Sudan. In 1989 there was a breakout in Reston Virginia,at a monkey holding
facility, that killed over 400 monkeys thathad been shipped from the Phillines.
This strand however, is only lethal to monkeys and id not a threat to humans(9).
In 1995, there was an outbreak in Kikwit Zaire that claimed 233 lives. At
least7 people survived that outbreak becauses of a new breakthrough that is a
possible solution to the loss of lives that are suffered in a outbreak. Blood
from one surviving patient can be transfusedto a person of the same blood type
to possibly save the persons life. Such was the case in 1995(10). Scientists
were able tofind who the first person to contract the virus was in 1995.
Theman’s name was Gaspard Menga. Menga infected his family, and his family
infected others(11). Menga is known as the index patient.The reason it is so
important to have the index patient is thatthis way they can trace the patients
movements and try to find the origin of the virus. Scientists are now arguing
that if there wasn’t so much interference with the rain forests that
therewouldn’t be new diseases emerging all the time(12).
The most recent outbreak happened in January of 1996 in a small village in
inland Zaire. Two children were playing when the came upon a dead chimpanzee
and they took it back to the village where the villagers celebrated for the
finding of such a wonderful thing. The reason this was so celebrated was
because meat is rare in that village. Anyone who helped clean or cook the animal
became ill with the deadly ebola virus. The final death count was 16 people.
Villagers have been warned not to eat any animals that they find already dead
and to be careful not to eat any sick animals that they may encounter.
Scientists now believe that monkeys are not the original host because they
seem to just as susceptible to the disease as humans. Scientists are hoping
that they will make some substantial discoveries with this outbreak.(13).
Scientists do know that ebola is a strand of seven proteins(14) that
belongs to a family of viruses called filovirusus. The virus consists of a
shell of proteinssurrounding genetic material. The virus attaches itself to a
host cell, and changes the chemicals makeup to fit its own so that itcan
Ebola is a hemorrhagic virus that has a short incubation period of about
two days to two weeks(16). It causes high fever,chills, internal and external
bleeding, vomiting, the eyes turnred and the skin becomes blotchy and bruises
appear. The surfaceveins and arteries erode. Organs liquify and blood flows
from every opening in the body including the eyes and ears(17). This is
followed by a painful death that usually occurs within threeweeks(18). There are
three known strains of The virus. Ebola Zaire,ebola Sudan, and ebola Reston.
Ebola Zaire is the most lethal ofthe three followed by ebola Sudan and then
ebola Reston. EbolaReston is the least worried about because it has not proved
to be hostile to humans.The question of whether or not this virus could
become airborne has struck fear in many. Scientists say that it isunlikely that
it will become airborne, because it is killed by ultraviolet rays within seconds.
The only way that it could survive is if it mutated to become resistant to
ultraviolet rays.At this point, a person is more likely to contract HIV
thanit is to contract the ebola virus, although it takes ten years to affect a
person the way ebola does in ten days.
Even though ebola is a very mysterious and feared disease, itis in the
process of becoming more understood. It can destroy an entire city in a matter
of weeks, and could wipe out an entirenation if it ever became airborne, but it
is a very difficult disease to contract so the united states is probably safe
from anynear future epidemics. On the other hand many third world countries
could have serious problems if there is an outbreak due to unsanitary living and
medical conditions. The hospitals and medical personnel reuse needles that have
been infected and they don’t uselatex or any other kind of gloves which can be a
cause of widespread sickness. Everyone hopes that diseases like ebola will not
get out of control before a cure can be found. Such hopes seem unreasonable due
to the facilities available in some areas of the world.