The Ebola virus was discovered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976 and is named after a river in that country. Since that time it has shown up in several different African countries and has been responsible for hundreds of deaths including 15 that were reported in northeastern Congo in early September.
Ebola causes a hemorrhagic fever which is fatal in between 40 and 90 percent of the people infected with the virus. According to the CDC, the virus is one of two members of a family of RNA viruses called the Filoviridae. There are five identified subtypes of Ebola virus. Four of the five have caused disease in humans: Ebola-Zaire, Ebola-Sudan, Ebola-Ivory Coast and Ebola-Bundibugyo. The fifth, Ebola-Reston, has caused disease in nonhuman primates, but not in humans.
In the 36 years since the discovery of the virus, it has hit the Congo 9 times but never in the particular area where this outbreak occurred. The outbreak began in the city of Isiro in the territory known as Haut-Uele. It moved from there to Viadana which is over 45 miles away. It is believed that a woman from Viadana attended the funeral of one of the victims in Isiro. It is not known if she took part in the funeral ritual of washing the body of the deceased but this could account for her contagion. She became a victim of the Ebola virus herself and infected several other people in Viadana.
Physicians from “Doctors without Borders” are staffing the quarantine centers that have been set up in both Isira and Viadana. The United Nations is trying to raise funds to help fight the outbreak before it becomes a full blown epidemic. At the present time, there is no cure for the Ebola virus.
“The cases that have been identified are linked to certain practices like self-medication or the washing of the corpses and their exposition during funerals. People want to touch and see the body, it’s the tradition everywhere in Africa,” said Faïda Kanyombe, who is responsible for health promotion at Doctors without Borders in the province.
Currently, there are an additional 170 people who are known to have been in contact with the virus. They are being closely monitored for any symptoms of the disease.
It is not known exactly where the Ebola virus comes from but it appears most likely that it is borne in the animal kingdom and 4 of the 5 varieties occur in an animal host all of whom are native to Africa. The virus is not native to other continents. There has never been a reported case of the Ebola virus in a human, in the United States.