Ebola: The beginning of darkness

BY MATTHEW COLLINS - JANUARY 27, 2015

In the wake of the recent Ebola outbreak, one cannot help but feel drawn to the beginning, that first moment in time when such a deadly virus unleashed its invisible evil into conscious light, into a world of innocent lives; a world undeserving of its wrath.

-- Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), 1976, was a nation in the heart of Africa which had, just 16 years ago, emerged from the darkness of Belgian colonial rule. Whilst still awaiting the fresh wounds of a recent past to heal into never-forgotten scars, the unfortunate DRC was to become the historical birth-place of one the deadliest viruses known to man, namely Ebola.

On the 26th of August 1976, after having travelled around far-northern Zaire with 6 mission workers, Mabalo Lokela, a 44-year-old male Mission-School instructor, made his way through the entrance of the Yambuku Mission Hospital (YMH), located in the Bumba Zone in northern Zaire, to be treated for what was thought to be malaria.

After a Belgian nurse had administered the presumably necessary injection, namely “Chloroquine”, the patients fever, much to his delight, subsided.

However, on the 1st of September, his fever would come back with a fiery vengeance before sending him back to YMH on the 5th of September for various symptoms of the most severe nature. Such symptoms included vomiting, diarrhoea and bleeding through the nose, gums and gastrointestinal bleeding (bleeding of the stomach and intestines).

His life was only to last three-more days, as he lay there and died at the hands of an unknown killer.

Within only a few weeks, case after case, all containing similar symptoms, began appearing within a 70km radius of Yambuku, with 11 of the 17 YMH staff dying; eventually leading to the hospital’s doors shutting, in utter shock, on the 3rd of October. Cases and deaths would continue to be reported up until the 24th of October 1976, after which 280 individuals had passed on.

In the midst of the outbreak, blood samples were sent to Belgium for analysis, with one of the vials actually breaking. Peter Piot, a microbiologist, helped to identify the new virus, which would be named the "Ebola virus".

A team, including the Belgian microbiologist, Peter Piot, was sent in to investigate the outbreak.

Caption: Peter Piot in Yambuku, 1976. Image courtesy of: www.bbc.com

In the report of a commission of inquiry, namely the “Report of an International Commission on the Ebola haemorrhagic fever in Zaire, 1976”, it was stated that virus transmission was curbed by avoiding injections (because of possibly contaminated needles), enforcing the strict isolation of patients and destroying any “contaminated” materials, including bodies.

From that moment on, the world would see 34 more cases of Ebola outbreaks, with the recent West-African outbreak being by far the worst the world has ever seen.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the current Ebola outbreak has claimed the lives of over 8000 people, almost six times more than all other Ebola outbreaks in history, combined.

 

Main image courtesy of: www.businessinsider.com