The Messed Up History Of Ebola

Ebola is a pretty nasty disease. The virus can cause symptoms that you'd expect to see in a horror film. The more mild symptoms include fever, body aches, fatigue, and intense vomiting and diarrhea. The more extreme cases include kidney and liver impairment, along with unexplained bleeding from a person's orifices. The bleeding is actually one of the more rare symptoms, but it's the most iconic. The symptom that gives people nightmares.

Even though most of the cases have the general symptoms of a viral infection, the disease is deadly. Public Health England puts the mortality rate between 40-90 percent, depending on several factors. Even 40 percent is outrageous for a disease in the modern world. Luckily, Ebola isn't extremely contagious. A disease's "R₀ value" is an estimation of how transmittable that disease is. Ebola has an R₀ value of two, according to NPR, while HIV has an R₀ value of four, and measles has an R₀ value of 18. Even with an R₀ value so low, there have been Ebola outbreaks that panicked parts of the world.

The first recorded Ebola outbreak

The first Ebola virus outbreak occurred in 1976, which was two separate outbreaks of different strands of the virus in different locations, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They just happened to occur simultaneously. There's evidence that suggests the virus occurred in humans before this point, but no previous outbreaks have been recorded. It's thought that the African fruit bat could be the host animal that's keeping Ebola alive.

More than 700 cases were reported during that first outbreak, with over 430 patients deaths. The textbook Historical Analysis of the Ebola Virus: Prospective Implications for Primary Care Nursing Today (an abstract is on the website of the National Center for Biotechnology Information) claims the spread of the virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo was accelerated by poor medical practices. Apparently, a hospital that treated the infected reused the same needles, five of them, for hundreds of patients. Blood-to-blood is a sure way to transmit the virus.

Here's the thing, medical practices in less developed countries historically take longer to catch up to the advancements in the west for one reason and one reason only: imperialism. These countries have been chewed up for their resources and spit out with nothing left. It's not easy, but many have or are on their way to "getting there."

Ebola outbreak sparks racism

The initial Ebola outbreak was contained pretty quickly, according to a 2014 study at Science Direct, because people in the area modified their behavior in the face of a deadly threat. The lesson? The effects and length of a viral outbreak can be lessened by people changing their behavior. The disease popped back up in 2014. This time around, the virus infected nearly 30,000 people and killed over 11,000, according to another CDC report. The 2014 outbreak also sparked a wave of disease-related racism.

Ebola tends to come out of Africa, and the United States responded to the virus with racism. In New Jersey, Rwandan elementary students were sent home from school for 21 days of isolation for being Rwandan, according to the BBC. Potential Nigerian students were told they could no longer attend college in Texas. High school soccer fans in Pennsylvania chanted "Ebola!" as a West African player on the opposing team took the field. The racist response to diseases that begin in other parts of the world can still be seen in some reactions to people of Asian descent at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.