The Ebola virus disease is one of the deadliest viral diseases for humans and non-human primates. The virus is endemic to sub-Saharan Africa, and was identified in 1976 when two outbreaks occurred in different parts of Central Africa. The first outbreak occurred in Zaire, now Democratic Republic of the Congo, in a village near the Ebola River. The second outbreak was in what is now South Sudan, about 500 miles away.
Colorized transmission electron micrograph of an Ebola virus
The Ebola virus existed long before these outbreaks. Population growth, human expansion and development, deforestation, and contact with wildlife contributed to greater rates and spread of the virus. The virus spreads to humans through contact with the blood, body fluids, and tissues of animals, like bats and other primates. Once in humans, the Ebola virus spreads through close contact.
Testimony of Saah Tamba, Ebola survivor in Liberia (2014)
Testimony of Matu Kamara, Ebola Survivor from Sierra Leone (2014)
Those that are infected start showing symptoms in about 2-21 days after exposure. The disease typically progresses from fever, general pain, and fatigue to diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, bleeding and bruising, and death as the person becomes sicker.
How Ebola treatment has changed
Treatment of Ebola virus is possible with early action improving chances of survival. Providing fluids and electrolytes, oxygen therapy, and medications that support blood pressure, reduce vomiting and diarrhea, and manage fever and pain have been most successful.
It was not until 2016, toward the end of last major Ebola virus outbreak, that the first vaccine became available.
During the last major outbreak from 2013-2016 around 29,000 people became ill from Ebola virus. Around 40% died.
Lessons Learned in Sierra Leone: 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola Outbreak
The first reported case was an 18-month old boy in Guinea. From there the virus spread to neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone. The Ebola virus outbreak caused panic in many Western countries. This was not due to uncertainty, since medical authorities were certain about the severity and difficult transmission of the virus. The panic had more to do with ignorance, racism, and xenophobia.
Map of countries with case(s) of Ebola in 2016
Red: Countries with high transmission of Ebola
Yellow: Countries with case(s) of Ebola
The Ebola virus itself is not racist. Racism, with its deep history in the West, racialized the virus as a “Black disease.” Immigrants and visitors to and from Africa were marked as carriers of the disease. Many people faced increased discrimination as Ebola virus continued to function in popular discourse as a stand-in for any combination of “African-ness,” “Blackness,”
“Foreign-ness,” and “infestation” that threatened the perceived purity of White, Western bodies and borders.