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Ebola is one of the most deadly viruses ever discovered – a hemorrhagic virus that can cause lethal organ failures in seven to 16 days after infection.
The current outbreak of Ebola Zaire in West Africa has been the largest in recorded history. As of September 21, 2014, it has infected 6,263 and killed 2,917 of its victims, for a mortality rate of 47%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With the transportation of four infected American doctors to American soil this summer, many Americans worried about the virus’s spread on our own territory. However, Ebola first appeared in the United States in Reston, Virginia in 1989.
When Ebola Reston first walked on America’s doorstep it was an unexpected event. The source came from two infected monkeys imported from the Philippines to the United States. They were caged in different rooms, and believed to have not had any previous physical contact with one another. What these monkeys ended up doing however, was passing the virus onto their American handlers.
This was the first indication for scientists that unlike every other type of Ebola studied, this stand could spread through the air. This discovery was the first of three outbreaks that occurred almost simultaneously that year.
While Ebola Reston proved pathogenic to the monkeys, the four infected humans developed no symptoms whatsoever. The only evidence proving they came in contact with the virus is from the antibodies their bodies produced.
The virus popped up again only in primates in 1990, 1992 and 1996 and has since faded away. It remained the only strain of Ebola in North America until 2014.
Ebola, first discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976, takes its name from the Ebola River. There are four subtypes, including Reston:
- Ebola Zaire: The first strain discovered in 1976. It infected 318 people in African nations and killed 280 of them, giving it an 88% mortality rate before its most recent outbreak in 2014.
- Ebola Sudan: Also discovered in 1976, this strain has infected 761 and killed 404, with a morality rate of 53%.
- Ebola Ivory Coast: This strain was discovered in 1994. It infected a single scientist, who got the virus from the corpse of the chimpanzee he autopsied.
Every subtype but Reston can only spread via direct contact with the body fluid of an infected person. Strangely enough, Ebola Reston’s adaption to spread through the air gave it the potential to be more dangerous to humans while eliminating any chance it might harm them.
Ebola. Infectious Diseases: In Context. Ed. Brenda Wilmouth Lerner and K. Lee Lerner. Vol. 1. In Context Series. Detroit: Gale, 2008. Pg269-275. Accessed via Reference Universe 8-29-2014.
Ebola Outbreak in West Africa. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 2014. Accessed 8-29-2014. http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/outbreaks/guinea/.