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Ebola on the Rise

Terrifying disease mystifies, concerns scientists

by David Johnson

Symptoms begin with fever, exhaustion, stomach pains, and diarrhea. Within a week, the virus accelerates its relentless attack on the human body eventually liquefying all tissue except bone and skeletal muscle.

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At least 156 people have died of Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever during an outbreak that began in Uganda in September 2000. Although AIDS has killed many more people, Ebola is often more feared because it strikes within days of exposure and is so deadly. There is no cure. One strain has a mortality rate of 90%.

Death of a Doctor

Ebola is spread through blood and other bodily fluids. Anyone in contact with an infected person is at risk, especially health care workers. A doctor, 12 nurses, an ambulance driver, and a hospital cleaner have all died during the Ugandan epidemic. Health workers must wear protective clothing, including rubber gloves and facemasks, when caring for Ebola patients. But when epidemics erupt supplies are often inadequate.

The deaths have put added strain on the country's already overtaxed health care system. Uganda has asked for additional international help, while medical workers want higher pay for treating Ebola patients.

A Devastating Disease

Ebola is a devastating disease. Symptoms begin with fever, exhaustion, stomach pains, and diarrhea, which have often led Ebola to be mistaken for other illnesses. However, within a week, the virus accelerates its relentless attack on the human body eventually liquefying all tissue except bone and skeletal muscle. As various organs shut down, blood sometimes drains from every orifice in the body.

Mysterious Origins

Since it was first reported in 1976, along the Ebola River in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), there have been several outbreaks in various Central African countries. These outbreaks have been several years apart and occurred in different locations. After a sudden onslaught of deaths, the outbreaks end, leaving scientists baffled.

International medical sleuths have been scouring the tropical rain forest in search of the plant or animal that is Ebola's home. They also want to know why it suddenly surfaces among people. Hundreds of species of animal and plant have been tested. Leading suspects are rats, host to other hemorrhagic viruses, and bats, which do not get sick when injected with Ebola. Ebola can be fatal to monkeys and primates. People have contacted Ebola after eating improperly cooked monkey meat.

Health Officials' Nightmare

Public health officials worry that a local outbreak could turn into an international epidemic if an infected person flies to another part of the world. The chance that this could happen was illustrated in January 2000. A woman flew home to Germany after contracting dreaded Lassa Fever in West Africa. A health scare erupted after the airline warned everyone who had been on that flight about possible exposure. Although no other cases were reported, the woman died.

Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

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