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On the trail of the West African Ebola virus

This is the story of the present outbreak from December 2013 to now.

In this video you will learn about how Ebola caught the world unawares in West Africa.

  • Watch the video and read the notes below.

  • Make a note of some of the factors that allowed Ebola to spread so rapidly.

You can download additional support notes and follow links to optional materials below.

Our story begins in the last month of 2013, in the village of Meliandou in south-eastern Guinea.

Somehow a 2-year old boy, Emile Ouamouno, had contracted Ebola. We’ll probably never know exactly how, but a team of biologists and anthropologists who visited Meliandou came to the conclusion that some children in the village may have been playing with the carcasses of dead bats found lying on the ground after a fire in a tree.

Whatever the exact origins of this first index case, the disease had soon spread to most of Emile’s family. Village medical workers involved in caring for them also soon contracted Ebola and took the infection to nearby hospitals and other villages. By the time the Guinean and international medical agencies realised what was happening, there was already a disseminated outbreak, with cases in several locations in south-eastern Guinea, and the beginnings, via a long-distance traveller of what would become an outbreak in Guinea’s capital Conakry.

Arguments about how it took so long – from the end of December 2013 to mid-March 2014 – to realise what was happening are sure to rage for a while, especially as more details of those crucial first weeks are revealed. However, one thing which is certain is that no clinical case of Ebola had been recorded before in West Africa, apart from one non-fatal case of the extremely rare Tai Forest ebolavirus species in Ivory Coast away back in 1994. The appearance of a lethal species of Ebola in such force in the countries west of Mount Nimba was completely unprecedented.

Before long the risks of transmission via international travel became apparent. Patrick Sawyer travelled from Liberia to Lagos in Nigeria and became the index case in that country. A traveller with Ebola also turned up in Senegal to the north-west of Guinea. A small outbreak occurred in Mali to the north. Returning medical workers took the disease back to the USA and UK, and an airlifted victim passed Ebola to a nurse in Spain.

The outbreak reached its peak in West Africa in October 2014 when there were over 7,000 new cases in that month alone. Since then, things have eased a little, but as long as there is one transmitting case remaining, the possibility of a resurgence of the disease remains very real, both within Africa and more widely.

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Ebola: Symptoms, History and Origins

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