Ebola was first seen in the United States in Reston, Virginia in 1989. The breakout began in a primate quarantine unit and spread to a nearby room through the ventilating system. The military intervened, killing four hundred monkeys and ending the outbreak. The last strike of Ebola to hit Zaire occurred twenty years ago in the city of Yambuccu. During the 1976 Ebola crisis, the disease killed nine out of ten victims, leaving four hundred
dead. The outbreak ended upon the decision by the village elders to stop traditional burial
ceremonies, quarantine the village, and burn down the huts of the dead.
From the time of
The epidemic of 1995 began at a hospital during surgery performed on a lab worker.
Three nurses fell ill following the surgery, and as the hospital workers tried to take care of their
kin, they too fell ill. Within weeks, thirty six workers were already dead, all survivors fled. The
hospital is currently empty, with goats running through the yards.
Kikwit itself is considered a city although it is really a town with a population of 400,000.
There is no running water or electricity. The diet of the Kikwit people consists of insects,
monkeys, and rats, all suspected carriers of the disease. The camera crew catches a glimpse of
one of the villagers making a lunch out of a rat.
The story begins as news reporters tell of the deaths occurring in Zaire. Later, it is
officially diagnosed by the CDC that the deadly disease is no other than Ebola. Since the
beginning of the outbreak, a military quarantine has been imposed on the area of Kikwit.
An International Medical Emergency Team assembled in Kikwit with a mission is to stop
the virus and find out where it came from. The members officially greet each other with the
“Kikwit” handshake – elbow to elbow in order to minimize contact.
researchers and Zairian doctors must strategize and plan how they will respond to this outbreak.
Their first priority is to find every case and isolate it.
Epidemiologists from the CDC establish the protocols for finding and documenting every
case. This unfortunately entails the entire team breaking apart and fanning through the city,
sometimes going door to door in order to find and secure all of the patients.
In a city with no mass media (not even a newspaper), the international team found it hard
to organize a meaningful informational campaign. In the center of commerce, they draped signs
saying, “The disease that makes your blood flow, this disease has no vaccine and no cure. You
must protect yourself.” Medical students arrived in Kikwit to begin their door to door campaign.
Villagers were wary of coming forward because of the stigma attached to the disease. The sick
will be taken from their home and family to die in the hospital ward.
Ebola is thought to be carried by an animal of the rainforest, but it is unknown which one.
It is believed that when we know the host, we can see where the virus will hit next.
At the 10 week mark, epidemiologists found patient zero from a timeline. The first case
occurred four months prior to the first hospital death; the patient was Gaspar Minga, a charcoal
worker. Almost his entire family is now dead. Epidemiologists use this data and...