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27 February 2015

Ebola: the not so new virus...


Ebola in West Africa has claimed more than 9300 lives in the last year.

Researchers have traced the origins of the epidemic to a two-year-old toddler, who died in December 2013 in Meliandou, a small village in south-eastern Guinea. The child was seen playing under a tree heavily infested with bats.

AT “Ebola: The 21st century plague?" [Royal Society of Medicine, London, UK. February 6, 2015], we heard from international experts handling the epidemic.  They examined the history of the disease, the lessons learnt from 2014 and what strategies are in place for preventing future outbreaks.  In doing so, we gained an explanation as to why a rural outbreak became a regional urban epidemic, and an understanding of the complexity of medical volunteering and running ebola treatment centres.

I have selected some keyfacts & insights from the talks, to give you a flavour of this one-off national symposium, an update from the frontline.

Ebola virus has been with the world since at least 1976 - nearly 40 years

We're aware of 28 independent outbreaks of the ebola virus disease  in that time and of the involvement of 5 different strains, each named for the country of origin. What's different this time is that the death toll is so much higher.

Keyfact:  4 times as many deaths in one year as in the previous 40 years

Insight: Although ebola has been around for some time - and probably longer than we realise - the global community only became aware of it because a nun at a missionary clinic went down with a mystery disease caught from patients. Her blood sample sent to London in 1976 yielded a new virus - which was named "Ebola" after the river near to the outbreak village in Yambuko, DRC.  At the same time, 500 miles away in Sudan, a similar but separate outbreak occurred.

Ebola in West Africa largely confined to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia These have vast rural areas, with dense forest and wild life in close proximity to the local population, perfect for transmission of a virus from wildlife to people (zoonoses).

Keyfact: Right from 1976, wildlife transmission was suspected and the search for an animal reservoir began.   The index case for the 1976 Yambuko outbreak was a headmaster who had eaten monkey meat, the simultaneous Sudan outbreak was centred on a sugar factory infested by bats; a vet caught ebola from treating a sick chimpanzee colony in Cote D’Ivoire[1992]

Insight: In 1996,  a lab study finally showed that of various mammals, only bats could be infected and remain healthy (=reservoir)

Read more keyfacts and insights at Handpicked and Carefully Sorted.


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A quote from UNICEF is worth mentioning here:
“Ebola kills people; but more lives are put at risk because of lack of information or misinformation”
Dr. Guido Borghese, UNICEF Principal Advisor Child Survival and Development for West and Central Africa

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