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Ebola is back. The infamous viral disease first made itself known to the world in 1976, in a small village called Yambuku in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Now, 42 years later, Ebola is causing another outbreak in the DRC—the ninth in the country’s history.
The country excels at spotting diseases early. In the wake of the Kikwit outbreak, scientists like Muyembe and Emile Okitolonda, who leads the Kinshasa School of Public Health, trained medical staff in all of the country’s 500-plus health zones to report potential symptoms. Now, even traditional healers and pastors know to do this. “Here, we have a surveillance system that works,” Okitolonda told me when I met him in the DRC. “Here, nurses know that if they see a suspected case, they report it.”
They might increasingly have cause to do so. “The last outbreak occurred approximately at the same time of year, and it appears that these outbreaks are occurring with greater frequency,” says Anne Rimoin from UCLA, who has worked in the Congo for 16 years. That could be because the Congolese are getting better at detecting the disease, “but there is some evidence that this outbreak appears to have been smoldering for a few months,” Rimoin adds. “Perhaps the ecology is changing, and it has something to do with the reservoir species.” She means the animals that harbor the Ebola virus—bats are likely candidates, but the exact species is still a mystery.
Photo credit: U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brien Vorhees/Released