The first recorded emergence of the Ebola virus was in July 1976, in a cotton factory in the town of Nzara in Sudan. The mortality rate in the resulting epidemic reached 70 percent as it spread eastward to the town of Maridi, Sudan, and to the local hospital there, and then subsided. Although the first human to contract the disease was identified, it has not been determined how the virus was transmitted to him. The natural reservoir an animal population in which a virus resides was not located, nor was the virus isolated.
The Ebola virus is thought to be resident in certain groups of monkeys, and it sometimes crosses species lines to infect humans. Increased mobility by modern transportation can also contribute to the rapid spread of infectious diseases. Among humans, the disease is spread by direct contact with infected blood, organs, or secretions, or by means of contaminated medical equipment such as scalpels and hypodermic needles and syringes. It does not appear to be spread by casual contact. Among monkeys, however, there is evidence that the Ebola virus can be spread through the air.
The onset of the disease is rapid: symptoms can occur within two to 21 days after infection. Once symptoms begin to show, death can occur within days or after about a week at most. The first symptom is usually a headache, followed by steady fever. The virus causes an unusual combination of clots and hemorrhages. The clots lodge throughout the body, filling capillaries and shutting off blood to parts of the internal organs, especially to the brain, liver, and spleen. This causes the affected organs to begin to decay. Blood begins to leak through the capillaries and into the tissues, but by this point the blood will not clot. The connective tissues lose their elasticity and become mushy. The body's internal cavities fill with blood, and blood leaks from all orifices and through the skin, which becomes easily ripped. As the disease progresses, both humans and monkeys develop a fixed and expressionless face, probably as a result of hemorrhages within the brain. Death comes from excessive blood loss and shock. The Ebola virus saturates all of the fluids flowing from the body. Ebola hemorrhagic fever is the third deadliest infectious disease known, after HIV, which causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), and rabies, which has an effective vaccine.
There is no vaccine against the Ebola virus, nor is there a cure once the disease has been contracted. Effective hygiene and standard aseptic medical procedures can limit the spread of the disease.
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