Ebola virus

Case study: Ebola

The origins of Ebola are still under discussion

In late August 1976 Mabalo Lokela, a 44-year-old schoolteacher from Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), was returning from a trip to the north of the country when he fell ill with a serious fever. Doctors initially suspected malaria, but then he started vomiting violently and eventually began bleeding from his mouth, nose and anus. Just two weeks after the onset of symptoms, he was dead. The cause, then unknown, was the Ebola virus.

Shortly after Lokela’s death others began to flood into the hospital with similar symptoms – more than 300 people in total. Almost all of them died, making Ebola one of the most virulent pathogens to infect humans.

Nearly 40 years and many outbreaks later, its likely origin is still debated, but a number of studies have linked outbreaks to bats. By November 2014 the Ebola outbreak in West Africa had killed more than three times as many people as all the other outbreaks combined.

Lead image:

Ebola virus.

CDC Global/Flickr CC BY NC ND


Further reading

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Epidemics’ in September 2007 and reviewed and updated in January 2015.

Health, infection and disease, Medicine, Immunology
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development