Somewhere in a sweltering jungle, in a deep green thicket that blocks the sun, lives a killer rarely seen, but always present. One that prowled the forests perhaps thousands of years before emerging twenty-one years ago to earn the name Ebola. The virus was named for the Ebola River, which passes by the village where the virus was first discovered. “Ebola is a rare but very deadly viral fever first identified in Africa in 1976. Ebola outbreaks among humans have been limited to Africa, but a shipment of monkeys infected with the disease did reach a research laboratory in Virginia in 1989” (Preston 41).
Ebola is caused by a long, filamentlike virus that is just a single strand of ribonucleic acid, RNA. RNA usually works with DNA to produce proteins, but viruses based on RNA are able to reverse normal processes. DNA has embedded information, which can control the RNA, and RNA viruses are able to reverse the control, making it capable of controlling the DNA. The RNA is now in control of producing copies of the virus that is in charge. “Researchers do not yet know exactly how the Ebola virus is transmitted from person to person” (Preston 41).
Once the virus enters a person’s bloodstream, the effects are devastating and nearly always deadly. Virologists believe Ebola can be transmitted through bodily fluids and mosquitoes could transfer the blood-borne pathogen to chimps or to humans. Illness begins suddenly with Ebola. Symptoms usually begin with a severe headache, fever, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, and sudden weight loss. They start to show after about three days from contracting the deadly virus.
Then, in stage two, the stage before death, “the victims capillaries clog with dead blood cells, causing the skin to bruise, blister and eventually dissolve like wet paper, blood flows freely from eyes, ears, and nose, then starts to vomit the black sludge of his or her disintegrating internal tissues” (Cowley 45-88). Death usually follows five or six days after the first symptom. The first known outbreak was in 1976, killing more than 400 people in Zaire and neighboring Sudan. Anywhere from 50%-90% of victims were dead within a matter of days. Sometimes it takes nothing more than a change in the weather to unleash the killer.
The Ebola virus has only emerged from wet forests. Filmwriters and producers have already churned out thrillers. “The Net” and “Outbreak” have been astoundingly horrifying movies about outbreaks of the virus. The outbreak struck a California town, threatening to wipe out the nation in 48 hours. The internet was infected with the virus, destroying computer programs. Air-born or electronic, they are both deadly. In May of 1995, a “36-year old lab technician known as Kinfumu checked into the general hospital in Kikwit, Zaire of Africa, complaining of diarrhea and a fever.
Anyone could have mistaken his illness for the dysentery that was plaguing the city. Nurses, doctors, and nuns did what they could to help the young man. They soon saw that his disease wasn’t just dysentery. Blood began oozing from every opening in his body. Within four days he was dead” (Cowley 48-55). By then the illness had all but liquefied his internal organs. That was just the beginning. The day Kinfumu died, a nurse and a nun who had cared for him fell ill. The nurse was evacuated to another town seventy miles to the west of her, where she died.
Before she transferred, she infected at least three other of her fellow nuns, in which two resulted in death. A team of experienced virus hunters was sent to Zaire, when they heard of the outbreak. When they arrived, at least 58 to 76 affected people had already died. Blood samples were rushed to the Atlanta based Center for Disease Control and Prevention for analysis. All blood samples came back positive for the Ebola virus. Two out of three outbreaks in Zaire have occurred in hospitals. One week later, a Swiss graduate student was diseased with the murderous Ebola virus, while doing research in an African rain forest.
She was a team member studying a collection of chimpanzees on the Ivory Coasts of Tai National Park. Twelve of the Tai chimps died. The Swiss grad student helped perform an autopsy on one of the chimps. Soon she was deathly ill with fever, diarrhea, and liver problems. She was flown to Switzerland to be observed. She had one of the four types of Ebola. “The infected researcher was wearing gloves and mask and cannot recall coming into contact with the chimp’s blood. How, then, did she catch Ebola? ” (Watson 44). In the village of Mayibout in Gabon, a dead chimpanzee was found.
“Villagers helped carry the primate back to Mayibout, where it was skinned, cooked, and eaten. Within a week, nearly all those who had prepared the animal for the pot had fallen ill with a high fever. Some began bleeding from the eyes and mouth” (Purvis 59). One week later thirteen of them died. One of the deadliest known viruses has emerged from the forests of Africa. In 1995, 245 people were viciously murdered in the Zairian town of Kikwit. Their known deaths were caused by the virus, which was being transmitted by chimpanzees, and other forest creatures, to human.
In 1993, the Tai forests on the Ivory Coast were struck twice with an Ebola outbreak. In 1996, the virus had struck the African continent again. Deaths from infectious disease increased 56 percent form 1980 to 1992. Ebola usually strikes in remote regions without modern medical facilities. In many cases, terror takes over, and doctors are afraid to treat the ill, in fear of contracting the gruesome disease. Patients remain among the general public, spreading the virus. Many animals in the African forest test positive for Ebola.
The Red Colobus monkey and henna-colored apes are a major food source for chimpanzees, all three being major hosts. There are no laboratories in Africa to analyze samples of Ebola. They must be sent to Europe or the United States, packaged as hazardous material and transported on special cargo flights that are often booked up one month in advance. “Ebola has killed about 800 people worldwide since it was first identified in Zaire in 1976” (Ebola). “Will it happen elsewhere? ” (Watson 44). On your continent, in your country, state, or town? Will it happen to you?
There is no known cure or vaccine for the Ebola virus. Preventive efforts involve educating people about how the virus is transmitted and isolating infected individuals. Ebola seldom gives victims a second chance.
Parenthetical Documentation Cowley, Geoffrey. “Outbreak of Fear. ” Newsweek. 22 May 1995: 48-55. “Ebola. ” The Associated Press News. 23 Dec. 1996. Preston, Richard. The Hot Zone. New York: Random House, 1994. Purvis, Andrew. “Where Does Ebola Hide? ” Time 4 March 1996: 59. Watson, Traci. “In the Lair of the Ebola. ” U. S. News and World Report. 29 May 1995: 44.