Because it causes massive internal bleeding, Ebola Haemorrhagic Fever has reached iconic status as a particularly devastating illness. The mystery surrounding Ebola has grown in part beacause the disease often fails to appear for years, or even decades, and then suddenly breaks out in seemingly arbitrary locations.
A new study by researchers from the Max Planck Insitute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and Emory University in the United States, published in the journal PLoS Biology (November 2005), has shown that the outbreaks of the highly virulent Ebola Zaire virus are in no way random.
They are part of a wave of infection which has spread gradually across central Africa over the last three decades. This discovery offers new optimism about the possibility of controlling the effects of the Ebola virus on humans, as well as in highly endangered gorillas and chimpanzees.
In the study, genetic data from the virus were used to plot the spread of the Zaire strain across central Africa over the last three decades. Ebola Zaire has not only killed about 80 percent of human patients, but also tens of thousands of western lowland gorillas. It has thus become a major threat to the survival of apes in Africa.