Ask the experts
I know Ebola is a very dangerous disease, but how deadly is it? I have a trip planned to North Africa and I'm trying to research what my risk for disease is. How many people have died from Ebola?
Ebola hemorrhagic fever first appeared in Zaire (currently, the Democratic Republic of the Congo or DRC or Congo) in 1976. The original outbreak was in a village named Yambuku near the Ebola River after which the disease was named. During that time, researchers identified the virus in person-to-person contact transmission. Of the 318 patients diagnosed with Ebola, 88% died.
Since that time, there have been multiple outbreaks of Ebola virus, and researchers have identified five strains; four of the strains are responsible for the high death rates. The four Ebola strains are termed as follows: Zaire, Sudan, Tai Forest, and Bundibugyo virus, with Zaire Ebola virus being the most lethal strain. Researchers have found a fifth strain termed Reston in the Philippines. The strain infects primates, pigs, and humans and causes few if any symptoms and no deaths in humans. Most outbreaks of the more lethal strains of Ebola have occurred in sub-Saharan West Africa and mainly in small- or medium-sized towns. Health care professionals believe bats, monkeys, and other animals maintain the non-human virus life cycle in the wild; humans can become infected from handling and/or eating infected animals.
Once an Ebola outbreak is recognized, African officials isolate the area until the outbreak ceases. However, in the last outbreak that began in West Africa in March 2014, some of the infected people reached larger city centers before the outbreak was recognized; this caused further spread. The infecting Ebola virus detected during this outbreak was the Zaire strain, the most pathogenic strain of Ebola. Health agencies are terming this outbreak as an "unprecedented epidemic." This epidemic spread quickly in the West African countries of Guinea and Sierra Leone. In addition, countries of Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda, and Mali all reported confirmed infections with Ebola. In addition, a few infections or flare-ups of Ebola virus infection appeared in the United States, Spain, and the United Kingdom; most of the people with Ebola in these countries either were imported infections from West Africa or were newly spread infections from treating patients who originally became infected in Africa. Another outbreak occurred in the DRC in May 2018 in Bikoro, a small town 80 miles from Mbandaka, with 46 reported infections and 26 deaths. Unfortunately, the large city of Mbandaka, with over 1 million people, has recorded at least three people with Ebola. The DRC hopes to isolate or stop the spread of Ebola in the two areas by vaccinating anyone who may have had some physical contact with an infected person with a new chimeric virus vaccine that in 2015 showed good results in Ebola-infected patients.
For more information, read our full medical article on the Ebola virus.
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