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ATLANTA - Investigators at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hav confirmed that the Ebola virus is behind outbreak of hemorrhagic fever in Zaire.

The outbreak has led to an army-enforced quarantine of Kikwit, a city of 600,000 people and the dispatch of biohazard experts from CDC and the WHO to the area. In a strongly worded message, the U.S. State department has strongly advised all others to stay well clear of the area.

The outbreak evidently began about a month ago with the death of a surgery patient at a hospital in Kikwit, 375 miles east of Kinshasa, and has now claimed more than 100 lives. Additional reports suggest the outbreak has spread to a hospital in Masengo, a town 60 miles from Kikwit.

The symptoms of Ebola virus include fever, rash and massive hemorrhaging from all body orifices. In previous outbreaks of Ebola virus, 88% of patients have died, most within a period of weeks. Poor hygiene at hospitals has been linked to the spread the virus in both the past and current outbreaks.

CDC investigators now en route to Kikwit will be equipped with the now familiar protective'space suits' and respirators, based on the assumption that they will encounter a Biosafety Level 4 agent.

There have been several reports of Ebola infection from diverse areas of central Africa since the beginning of the year. The CDC recently confirmed a diagnosis of Ebola virus infection in a Swiss researcher who had been working in central Africa. The researcher was treated in Switzerland and managed to survive the infection.

The Ebola virus is highly infectious, and appears to be spread primarily through contact with body fluids, a fact that puts health workers particularly at risk. The Ebola virus has a tropism for liver cells and macrophages. Massive destruction of the liver is a hallmark feature of Ebola virus infection. However, Ebola virus suffers from a limited capacity for transmission, which is what led to the termination of previous epidemics in Sudan and Zaire in the 1970's.

Ebola virus is in the family 'Filoviridae', of the genus, 'Filovirus'. There are four known members in the family, Marburg virus and three Ebola viruses: Zaire, Sudan and Reston. All but Reston have been known to infect humans.

Past cases of Ebola virus infection, all in central Africa, were associated with unhygienic hospital conditions. Previous Ebola virus outbreaks have been short-lived, owing to the virus's limited capacity for transmission. The virus seems to disappear after an epidemic peaks.

Little is known about how certain few individuals survive Ebola infection. A patient infected during an outbreak of Marburg virus infection survived after testing positive for the virus for more than a month. The limited data that is available suggests that Ebola and Marburg do not persist in the blood and appears to be self-limiting in the surviving patients.

Scientists also have no idea where Ebola lives in nature. Previous expeditions to search for the Marburg and Ebola viruses have turned up nothing. A team of researchers is reported to be en route to Ivory Coast to resume the search.

Transmitted: 95-05-11 12:26:24 EDT

More information on Ebola virus and other emerging diseases can be found in Access Excellence:

Dr. Don Francis Talks to Teachers About the Ebola Outbreak

Dr. Frederick A. Murphy Talks about the Ebola Virus

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