Ebola virus (ēbōˈlə) [key], a member of a family (Filovirus) of viruses that cause hemorrhagic fevers. The virus, named for the region in Congo (Kinshasa) where it was first identified in 1976, emerged from the rain forest, where it survives in as yet unconfirmed hosts, possibly several species of fruit bats; experimental evidence also suggests that wild and domestic swine may be a reservoir of the disease. The virus can be fatal to chimpanzees and gorillas as well as humans.
Several strains of the virus found in Africa cause hemorrhagic fever; one found in the W Pacific does not. Once a person is infected with the virus, the disease has an incubation period of 2–21 days; however, some infected persons are asymptomatic. Initial symptoms are sudden malaise, headache, and muscle pain, progressing to high fever, vomiting, severe hemorrhaging (internally and out of the eyes and mouth) and in 50%–90% of patients, death, usually within days. The likelihood of death is governed by the virulence of the particular Ebola strain involved. Ebola virus is transmitted in body fluids and secretions; it may possibly also be transmitted through the air by aerosol droplets. There is no vaccine and no cure.
Outbreaks of Ebola virus in humans occurred in both Congo-Kinshasa (then Zaïre) and Sudan (now in South Sudan) in 1976 and 1979; other outbreaks have occurred since in Gabon, Uganda, and both Congos. Outbreaks have been exacerbated by underequipped hospitals that reused syringes and lacked proper protective clothing for personnel. In 1989 a similar virus was found in monkeys imported to the United States.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.