SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) As more news comes out of Texas regarding the Ebola virus, questions arise as to what happened in previous outbreaks of this deadly virus – and what are our chances of containing it again?
Ebola hemorrhagic fever is caused by five different strains of the Ebola virus. It is so named after the Ebola River in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) where the first instances of the virus were detected in 1976. Four strains of the virus affect humans and animals while the fifth strain, the Reston virus, does not affect humans.
The first human outbreak of the Ebola virus was reported in Sudan and Zaire in 1976. Identified as a new threat through the blood of a nun who had fallen to the illness, the disease went on to consume over 284 people and had a mortality rate of 53%. International newspapers finally picked up reports of this mysterious new illness began to fly on October 1st and by the end of the week, health officials in Heathrow were alerted to check for the disease on passengers from Sudan and Zaire. This was the second Ebola outbreak, the first one having begun in July of the same year.
Initially, researchers and pathologists thought the disease was Marburg’s disease, caused by another hemorrhaging fever virus that broke out in the early sixties. Only when the virus was examined under a microscope on October 13 1976 by the CDC’s virologist expert Frederick Murphy did we catch a glimpse of the “dark beauty” that would become known as the Ebola virus.
The virus was nothing like Murphy had ever seen before. “As soon as I looked in the microscope I saw the filamentous virus particles everywhere. This is the weirdest virus we have ever seen.” Under a microscope, the Ebola virus is very funky looking indeed. It is ten times longer than a flu virus but unlike
the flu it can infect most cells of the body, while the flu virus is limited to only respiratory cells.
This makes the disease very infectious as it spreads quickly throughout the body, copying itself. This was why the death toll of the first outbreak reached 600 in a matter of months. It as spread by a mixture of misunderstandings about this new disease and hospital malpractices. The first victim of the second Ebola outbreak in 1976 received anti-malarial shots for his ailments from non-disposable needles that were not properly sterilized afterwards. And so the disease continued to spread through the Yambuku Mission Hospital in Zaire. Only the closure of the hospital and containment of the remaining Ebola patients stemmed this second outbreak.
Since then, there have been numerous isolated cases of Ebola, and up to three major outbreak not counting the current one. The third one was in 1995 in Zaire, which had 315 cases of the disease, followed by Uganda’s outbreak lasting from 2000 to 2001. This time the disease claimed 425 cases. The Congo had the last major outbreak that claimed 264 cases.
Many efforts are under way to find a vaccination for the crippling disease but they are undermined by the very nature of the illness. It is very difficult to make a case for human testing of the vaccine. Ten volunteers have stepped forward to test the vaccine last month however, and more people in England followed suit. If all goes well, which there is very high hope for indeed, we will likely see up to 3000 vaccinated with the virus as a trial run in January.
Until then, our only hope is to contain the disease.