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40 Years After First Ebola Outbreak, Survivors Show Signs They Can Stave Off New Infection

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Survivors of the first known Ebola outbreak, which occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976, may be key to development of vaccines and therapeutic drugs to treat future outbreaks, according to a new study led by researchers at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

Survivors of the first known Ebola outbreak, which occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976, may be key to development of vaccines and therapeutic drugs to treat future outbreaks, according to a new study led by researchers at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

UCLA researchers located the 14 Ebola survivors of the 1976 outbreak who, in January 2016, were still living in the same small, remote villages in the forests of the Équateur Province of northwestern Democratic Republic of the Congo. The researchers obtained blood samples and health history reports from them. The data revealed evidence that these survivors’ immune systems are likely to provide some protection against future infection.

The study, published online in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, marks the first time that the effects of the virus have been studied four decades after infection and the first findings that indicate Ebola survivors may be able to stave off future infections.

The Ebola virus is often associated with high mortality rates in humans, ranging from 25 percent to 90 percent, and outbreaks have occurred with increased frequency since the first reported event in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976 in which 318 cases were recorded, with a fatality rate of 88 percent. The Ebola virus disease is highly contagious and spreads through direct or indirect contact with bodily fluids. It initially causes fever, headache and muscle aches and can progress to vomiting, diarrhea, and sometimes internal and external bleeding. The 2014-2016 outbreak of Ebola in Western Africa was unprecedented in size and scope — there were an estimated 28,000 cases and more than 10,000 survivors.

Read more at University of California - Los Angeles Health Sciences

Image: Ebola virus researcher. (Credit: Nicole Hoff)