As I described in my last post, the World Health Organization has declared that the Ebola crisis has ended. I figured now would be a great time to describe a brief history of the Ebola Virus and what the scientific community is doing to protect us from the next outbreak.
The first reported cases of Ebola in humans occurred in 1976 in a remote village near the Ebola River in Zaire.
Bats are the natural animal-host of the Ebola virus, and are able to carry the virus without getting sick.
There are five versions of the Ebola virus in the wild, four of which can infect and sicken humans.
Prior to the most recent outbreak beginning in 2014, the previous largest outbreak sickened 425 people and killed 225 people. The most recent outbreak sickened over 28,000 people, and killed over 11,000.
Ebola is spread through direct contact with infected bodily fluids or medical supplies used to treat Ebola patients. There is some evidence that Ebola can also be transmitted sexually through semen, though this link is not yet solidified.
There are no treatments for Ebola, and patients who are diagnosed with Ebola are given supportive therapy to keep them alive, and allow their immune system to fight against the virus.
There are no approved vaccines for Ebola, but two trial vaccines were examined during the most recent outbreak and look promising.
If an individual has survived an Ebola infection, they are estimated to have antibodies for at least 10 years, protecting them from future infections of the same strain of Ebola.
Map detailing the sources of Ebola outbreaks, from 1976 to present (CDC.gov)
The Ebola Virus, as viewed under a microscope (CDC.gov)
While the Zika outbreak has captured much of the attention of the news, there is some important news that just released on the Ebola outbreak that occurred last year. On February 19, 2016, a major change occurred in the United States’ response to the Ebola crisis. The Department of Homeland Security decided to end its enhanced screening procedures for those who were arriving in the United States from countries in Africa that experienced the Ebola epidemic. The screenings included temperature checks at five of the major international airports in the country, including JFK, Newark, Dulles, Chicago, and Atlanta. This decision was made after the World Health Organization declared that the Ebola outbreak was over. It has been more than 42 days since the last known Ebola patient recovered, marking a period twice as long as the incubation period of the disease.
For now, it looks like the Ebola crisis has ended. In my next post, I will discuss where Ebola came from, and what we are doing to prevent an outbreak like this from occurring again in the future.
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