It has long been a maxim that it is easy to forget when one is at war who the enemy really is, and that can certainly be said for the Ebola virus, which recently catapulted into headlines and instantly became the most feared disease in the world. In the case of the fight against Ebola, the enemy is not the person who has contracted the disease, nor is it the region where the virus has flourished. The enemy is a microscopic virus that, when seen under sufficient magnification, looks like a piece of loosely knotted rope. While a picture of Ebola under a microscope might look innocuous, it is a living organism that can be killed, but if it is not, it will multiply and evolve much like any other organism, including the human beings it so often kills.
Despite the fact Ebola has been notorious for nearly 40 years, its ability to hide and change with the times has made its origins murky and left scientists without a vaccine. The World Health Organization (WHO) was able to identify the previously unknown disease after an outbreak in Sudan that killed a majority of the infected victims in 1976, and a doctor graphically described its effects later that year: "The illness is characterized with a high temperature of about 39°C [102°F], hematemesis, diarrhea with blood, retrosternal abdominal pain, prostration with 'heavy' articulations, and rapid evolution death after a mean of three days." Ultimately named after the Ebola River, the virus was a strain of the Marburg virus, and when it struck various nations in Africa from 1976-2003, it had incredibly high mortality rates and left hundreds dead in places like Zaire, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Most recently, a massive outbreak of Ebola began in Guinea and hit Liberia, where it has left thousands dead and ravaged local economies.
©2012 Charles River Editors (P)2015 Charles River Editors