Ebola Outbreaks in Sudan and Zaire

A picture of a young child during an Ebola outbreak.
A child covers his face as a defense against the Ebola virus January 1, 1995 in Kikwit, Zaire. The rare Ebola fever, transmitted by contaminated injections and certain forms of personal contact, killed approximately 245 people outside the capitol of Kinshasa. (Photo by Malcolm Linton/Liaison / Getty Images)

On July 27, 1976, the very first person to contract the Ebola virus began to show symptoms. Ten days later he was dead. Over the course of the next few months, the first Ebola outbreaks in history occurred in Sudan and Zaire*, with a total of 602 reported cases and 431 deaths.

The Ebola Outbreak in Sudan

The first victim to contract Ebola was a cotton factory worker from Nzara, Sudan. Soon after this first man came down with symptoms, so did his co-worker.

Then the co-worker's wife became sick. The outbreak quickly spread to the Sudanese town of Maridi, where there was a hospital.

Since no one in the medical field had ever seen this illness before, it took them awhile to realize that it was passed by close contact. By the time the outbreak had subsided in the Sudan, 284 people had become ill, 151 of whom had died.

This new illness was a killer, causing fatality in 53% of its victims. This strain of the virus is now called Ebola-Sudan.

Ebola Outbreak in Zaire

On September 1, 1976, another, even more deadly, outbreak of Ebola struck - this time in Zaire. The first victim of this outbreak was a 44-year-old teacher who had just returned from a tour of northern Zaire.

After suffering from symptoms that seemed like malaria, this first victim went to the Yambuku Mission Hospital and received a shot of an anti-malarial drug. Unfortunately, at that time the hospital did not use disposable needles nor did they properly sterilize the ones they used.

Thus, the Ebola virus spread through used needles to many of the hospital's patients.

For four weeks, the outbreak continued to expand. However, the outbreak finally ended after the Yambuku Mission Hospital was closed down (11 of the 17 hospital staff having died) and the remaining Ebola victims were isolated.

In Zaire, the Ebola virus had been contracted by 318 people, 280 of whom died. This strain of the Ebola virus, now called Ebola-Zaire, killed 88% of its victims.

The Ebola-Zaire strain remains the most deadly of the Ebola viruses.

Symptoms of Ebola

The Ebola virus is deadly, but since the initial symptoms can seem similar to many other medical issues, many infected people may remain ignorant of the seriousness of their condition for several days.

For those infected by Ebola, most victims begin to show symptoms between two and 21 days after first contracting Ebola. At first, the victim may only experience influenza-like symptoms: fever, headache, weakness, muscle pain, and a sore throat. However, additional symptoms begin to manifest quickly.

Victims often suffer from diarrhea, vomiting, and a rash. Then the victim often starts bleeding, both internally and externally.

Despite extensive research, no one is yet sure where the Ebola virus occurs naturally nor why it flares up when it does. What we do know is that the Ebola virus is passed from host to host, usually by contact with infected blood or other bodily fluids.

Scientists have designated the Ebola virus, which is also called Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF), as a member of the Filoviridae family.

There are currently five known strains of the Ebola virus: Zaire, Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire, Bundibugyo and Reston.

So far, the Zaire strain remains the most deadly (80% death rate) and the Reston the least (0% death rate). However, the Ebola-Zaire and Ebola-Sudan strains have caused all the major known outbreaks.

Additional Ebola Outbreaks

The 1976 Ebola outbreaks in Sudan and Zaire were just the first and most definitely not the last. Although there have been many isolated cases or even small outbreaks since 1976, the largest outbreaks have been in Zaire in 1995 (315 cases), Uganda in 2000-2001 (425 cases), and in the Republic of the Congo in 2007 (264 cases).

* The country of Zaire changed its name to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in May 1997.