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Ebola, A Rare and Deadly Disease

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With no current treatment or vaccination in existence and a 50 - 90 percent fatality rate when it infects humans, the Ebola virus is as deadly a threat as you'll find in the world today. Sudden fever, weakness, muscle pain, headaches and sore throats are the primary symptoms of Ebola, and those symptoms progress into vomiting, a rash, diarrhea, limited kidney function, limited liver function and both internal and external bleeding.

Although its exact origins are unknown, the initial outbreaks of the Ebola virus occurred in 1976, and claimed the lives of many citizens in Zaire, whose medical community was unsure of how to deal with the virus. Although it is now known that infected victims must be immediately isolated to avoid the spreading of the disease, the lack of knowledge about the virus upon its outbreak caused the Zaire medical community to allow some infected victims to roam in public areas, therefore spreading the virus at a rapid rate.

Transmission of the Ebola virus occurs by direct contact with the bodily fluids of patients infected with the virus. The handling of chimpanzees that are either ill or have died from the Ebola virus can also transmit the virus.

The outbreak in Zaire was followed by another, in the same year, in Sudan. Combined, these outbreaks can be connected with 340 deaths as a result of the the more than 550 cases that were recorded in these two nations. For three years following the initial appearance of the virus, there were no reported cases, but 34 more were identified in the Sudan in 1979 and the cause was again unknown.

A 16-year dormant period followed, during which no human cases were reported. The next instance of humans contracting the Ebola virus occurred in April 1995 in Kikwit, Zaire, when a patient that was being operated on for what was believed to be malaria infected the surgical team performing the operation. At the time, it was widely believed that Caucasians could not contract the disease, so the mostly-white medical team used minimal caution in their contact with the patient. Also at this time, new information about the ways people could contract the virus appeared when one of the nurses in Kikwit contracted the virus merely by closing the eyes of his deceased colleague. This occurred through his protective clothing.

For more information on the Geographic and Historical Breakdown of the Virus, click here.

Although the virus was spreading at a rapid rate, a coordinated effort of international health services was able to contain the outbreak. Present in this coalition of health organizations was the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) and the World Health Organization -- aided by members of the medical community from France, Belgium, and several southern African nations. In this most recent epidemic (defined as all cases occurring from 1 July 1995), approximately 233 deaths have been caused, and 293 cases identified as Ebola - bringing the fatality rate to nearly 80% in the outbreak of 1995).

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