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The Sources And Symptoms Of A Disease With A Global Reputation


Some facts now about the Ebola virus. It was discovered in 1976 after an outbreak in Zaire, which was the name then of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There are five strains, named for the site of the outbreak where they were first identified. So the outbreak in Guinea is of the Zaire strain. The other strains are Sudan, Ivory Coast, Bundibugyo - that's in Uganda - and Reston. That's in northern Virginia.

Dr. Pierre Rollin has worked on several Ebola outbreaks, as well as other hemorrhagic fever outbreaks. He's at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. Welcome to the program.


SIEGEL: How do people typically contract Ebola?

ROLLIN: More likely from an animal that had been infected. It could be the reservoir. And for Ebola, the reservoir will be a bat, a fruit bat.

SIEGEL: The reservoir, you would say, of the virus is a fruit bat.

ROLLIN: Yeah. The reservoir of the virus will be a fruit bat.

SIEGEL: And the virus would go from the fruit bat either to a human or to an animal, how - by virtue of a bite?

ROLLIN: The bat will suck and excrete the virus, maybe a bite or it could be also in the blood of the bat and when people kill them during the hunting or they could be in contact with that blood or urine or feces.

SIEGEL: And the bat, the carrier, the reservoir, you would say, survives.

ROLLIN: Yeah. They just carry the virus and seems to be in good health.

SIEGEL: And then there's the issue of other animals that might have been infected by the bat. That could be an animal that - we hear about monkey meat on occasion.

ROLLIN: Yes. So, monkey could be infected by being in contact with the bat or the urine. The bat population can come during the night, have some defecation on some of the fruit. And in the morning, the monkey arrive, eat that fruit and could be infected.

SIEGEL: And then if one ate the meat of that monkey, you could be - a human could be infected that way.

ROLLIN: Yeah. Yes. In a lot of area people are hunting monkey. And they can, when they prepare the meat, they can be infected.

SIEGEL: I mentioned the names of the five strains of Ebola, and one of them is not like the others. Four are in Africa and is named for Reston, Virginia. What happened in Reston?

ROLLIN: Reston, it was some imported monkey coming from the Philippines that were infected in the Philippines but were imported in quarantine facility in Reston, Virginia. And that's where they died.

SIEGEL: Of all the outbreaks, what has been the biggest one? And how many people, to the extent that we know, how many people contracted the disease in that case?

ROLLIN: That's an important point because Ebola is very famous. We hear about it. It goes to the news and movies and everything. But if you count mortality since we know Ebola, since '76, there may be 2,000 people that died, that we know of that died. So it's not a lot, but it's important because the health care worker are affected. And, for example, in '95 in Kikwit in Zaire, there are 70 health care worker that died in that hospital and the hospital shut down.

SIEGEL: Does this particular outbreak in Guinea, so far as you can tell, does it present any novel features or unusual dangers compared to other outbreaks in the past?

ROLLIN: We don't know yet. It's really early in the detection. And the team are going in the field now, some of them are already there. The challenge in this place is the area that are infected are very close to a border, to two borders, in fact, with Sierra Leone and also with Liberia. So the logistic could be a little bit more complicated in that outbreak.

SIEGEL: Well, Dr. Rollin, thank you very much for talking with us today about Ebola.

ROLLIN: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's Dr. Pierre Rollin, who spoke to us from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, where he is deputy director of the viral special pathogens branch. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Robert Siegel
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.