Improve public health to control Ebola

Ebola conference

Doctors seeking source of virus


March 10, 1996
Web posted at: 2:00 p.m. EST (1900 GMT)

From Correspondent Gary Streiker

KINSHASHA, Zaire (CNN) -- At an international conference on Ebola hosted by Zaire last week, increasing the quality of public health emerged as one of the keys to containing and eradicating the deadly virus.

The World Health Organization brought together scientists, political experts and government officials to discuss ways to better protect the world from a virus that has reared its head several times in the last year after a 16-year period of latency.

The virus attacks internal organs and triggers massive bleeding. It is spread by direct contact with infected blood or other bodily secretions and kills 80 percent of those infected. There is no known cause or cure.


The only known method of protecting against Ebola is quick containment. Until scientists can pinpoint where the virus originates in nature, containing Ebola immediately is the key to preventing a worldwide epidemic.

"When you miss the first wave of an epidemic, there's a great danger it can spread rapidly throughout the world," according to Dr. David Satcher from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

Since the disease spreads so quickly, it is essential for industrialized nations such as the United States to join in the fight against Ebola. The conference focused on improving public health policies, to better equip health officials to control the spread of the disease.


Necessary changes in the existing system include better hygiene and protective methods for medical personnel. A problem and contributing factor in past outbreaks has been a lack of available resources -- such as sterile gloves and a quick, reliable method of identifying diseases.

In the last epidemic in Kikwit, Zaire, the infection apparently occurred in January, but the disease was not identified as Ebola until samples sent to the United States five months later were tested for the virus.

Earlier detection is essential to curbing the disease.

"Every country needs to have a certain ability to identify an infectious disease organism and get that sample of blood or skin to the lab that can make the definite diagnosis possible," Satcher said. (168K AIFF sound or 168K WAV sound)


Unfortunately, these conditions are slow to arrive. Since last year's outbreak, few changes have been made in hospital infrastructure, and the staff is no closer to finding a cure or a quick identification protocol.

While hospital administrators work toward better awareness and policy for human containment, scientists struggle to stop the disease in its natural habitat -- the most effective method of abolishing Ebola.

African ebola outbreaks (map)

Once the method of transmission between animals to humans is known, doctors can work on eliminating the transfer.

"We could then take measures to ensure transmission didn't occur from nature to man -- and once that's done the epidemics will not occur," said Dr. David Heymann of the World Health Organization.

Until the methods of transmission are known, scientists and doctors from around the world work toward improved methods of containment.

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