Sunday, September 26, 2004

Ebola: An Update

Ebola haemorrhagic fever (EHF) is, with good reason, one of the most feared viruses on earth. It kills 50-90 percent of its human victims in a particularly gruesome fashion and it is highly contagious.

In Laurie Garrett's The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance, Dr. Ngoi Mushola's description of one of the first reported cases of the Ebola virus--in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in September 1976--is reprinted:

Findings. The affliction is characterized by a high temperature around 39 C; frequent vomiting of black, digested blood, but of red blood in a few cases; diarrheal emissions initially sprinkled with blood, with only red blood near death; epistaxis [nosebleeds] now and then; retrosternal and abdominal pain and a state of stupor; prostration with heaviness in the joints; rapid evolution toward death after a period of about three days, from a state of general health.

A recent outbreak of Ebola in southern Sudan offers some hope that health officials are learning to isolate the disease effectively, even though no cure is available.

On July 26, 2004, the last of seven Ebola-related deaths in Yambio, Sudan occurred. With no other known infections extant in the area, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak over on August 7. In all, seventeen cases were identified during the outbreak, one of the smallest outbreaks on record. Since the discovery of the Ebola virus, there have been 1,200 deaths from a total of approximately 1,850 cases of the disease.

Rapid response and effective quarantine measures appear to have limited the spread of Ebola in southern Sudan. This photo shows the quarantine area--complete with fences--constructed for patients during the Yambio outbreak.

Ebola is noteworthy for its virulence. HIV/AIDS, of course, continues to be a more significant threat in sub-Saharan Africa and worldwide. I plan to comment on the HIV/AIDS pandemic in a future post.