The origins of the virus and the challenges it poses | Ebola - Get the facts | DW | 25.11.2014
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Ebola - Get the facts

The origins of the virus and the challenges it poses

The Ebola virus was first discovered by researchers in 1976 in a village in Zaire, modern-day Democratic Republic of Congo.

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DW Ebola Special - Origins of the virus

The Ebola virus is microscopic. It looks like a piece of thread when examined under a microscope. It was first discovered by researchers in 1976 in a village in Zaire, modern-day Democratic Republic of Congo. They named the virus after the nearby Ebola River. Three further outbreaks occurred in Zaire and Sudan in the 1970s, but then the virus was not spotted again until 1994. This outbreak in Gabun marked the first time that it reached West Africa.

Infografik Ebola Zeitleiste Englisch

In all, there has been a total of 20 outbreaks of Ebola, all of which could be contained relatively swiftly. Until now, the maximum number of people infected in even the worst outbreak did not exceed 430. The current outbreak began in Guinea in late 2013 and developed into an epidemic that spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia, claiming over 5000 lives and infected more than 10,000 people.

One of the reasons why the virus was able to spread unchecked was that the international community and the affected countries initially underestimated the extent of the problem.

Ebolo was "swimming in an ocean of national apathy, denial and unpreparedness," said Nigerian virologist Oyewale Tomori.

Many questions remain unanswered. What exactly happens in the body when it is infected with Ebola? Why can younger people cope with it better than older people? In the forty years prior to this latest outbreak, 2500 people died of Ebola, fewer than became infected with HIV or tubercolis every day. The world lacks experience dealing with Ebola.

Ever since the current outbreak began in West Africa, efforts to find vaccines and medicine have been stepped up. The World Health Organization (WHO) hopes to be able to provide vaccines for several hundreds of thousands of people in the regions worst affected by Ebola by mid-2015, by late 2015; the WHO hopes that one million doses of the Ebola vaccine will be available.

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