What Is the Ebola Virus?
Ebola outbreaks typically appear sporadically. Confirmed cases of infections with Ebola virus have been reported in:
- The Republic of the Congo
- The Democratic Republic of the Congo
- The Ivory Coast
No human cases of infection have ever been reported in the United States. As mentioned, Ebola-Reston virus caused severe illness and death in monkeys imported to research facilities in the United States and Italy from the Philippines; during these outbreaks, several research workers became infected with the virus, but did not become ill.
Upon the first human in an outbreak becoming infected, transmission of the Ebola virus occurs through direct contact with patients who are already infected, or through contact with their body fluids (such as blood or secretions). Spread of the virus occurs most often when an infected person is in the late stages of Ebola hemorrhagic fever.
Just as scientists are unsure of the animal host for the Ebola virus, they are also unsure how an outbreak occurs. Researchers have hypothesized that the first patient with Ebola becomes infected through contact with an infected animal.
In the aftermath of the events of September and October 2001, there is heightened concern that the Ebola virus might be used as an agent of bioterrorism. The deliberate release of this organism is now regarded as a possibility, and the United States is taking precautions to deal with this.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls the Ebola virus a Category A agent. Category A agents are believed to present the greatest potential threat for harming public health, and have a moderate to high potential for large-scale dissemination (spread). The public is generally more aware of category A agents, and broad-based public health preparedness efforts are necessary.
Other Category A agents include: