Ebola Outbreak in the Congo

Aid teams are rushing to contain an outbreak of Ebola, arguably the deadliest disease on Earth, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. From Reuters:

Health workers launched an emergency operation on Wednesday to fight an outbreak of deadly Ebola hemorrhagic fever in southern Congo, airlifting supplies, setting up isolation tents and disinfecting contaminated areas.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and medical NGOs such as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) joined local health authorities in a major logistics operation to try to contain the outbreak in Kasai Occidental province of Democratic Republic of Congo.
Congo’s government, citing test results from international laboratories, said on Monday at least five cases of Ebola had been confirmed in the province, where authorities have reported more than 160 deaths among 352 sick people over four months.

Anyone who’s read Richard Preston’s nonfiction book on Ebola, The Hot Zone, is probably troubled by that “four month” figure, since Ebola, which kills fast, spreads even faster, and is roughly 50-90% fatal. As it turns out, Preston has been widely criticized for over-dramatizing the effects of Ebola in The Hot Zone, which opens with a particularly vivid account of a victim “bleeding out” on a flight to South Africa. That said, it’s still not a case of the Mondays.
What is not yet clear is if this outbreak of Ebola represents E. Zaire, which is the most lethal strain of the virus and provides that 90% mortality figure (sometimes reported as 80%). Virus strains are named after the location where they were first documented; casual readers may not know that from 1971-1997, the name of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was, you guessed it, Zaire.
Image via cia.gov.

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