The Sierra Leone government has announced the discovery of a sixth Ebola species, the Bombali virus, named after bats found in the Bombali region. According to Amara Jambai, a senior ministry of health official, “At this time, it is not yet known if the Bombali Ebola virus has been transmitted to people or if it causes disease in people but it has the potential to infect human cells.”
Like any good scientist, Tracey Goldstein, of the One Health Institute at UC Davis, described the discovery as “exciting” but cautioned that “I think we have a lot of work to do to really understand if it is a pathogen and whether it does or doesn’t pose a threat.”
There are five other known Ebola viruses, four of which can cause the disease in people: Zaire ebolavirus, Sudan ebolavirus, Taï Forest ebolavirus, Bundibugyo ebolavirus, and Reston ebolavirus, “known to cause disease in nonhuman primates and pigs, but not in people.”
Reston ebolavirus, for those of you living in the U.S., is notable not only because an outbreak occurred in Reston, Virginia not far from D.C., but also because it was the inspiration for one of my favorite books: The Hot Zone. Highly recommended bedtime reading.
Actually it never left. Ebola is endemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The government has declared an outbreak after 17 people in the town of Bikoro are suspected of dying of the gruesome disease. The WHO statement says:
All cases were reported from iIkoko Iponge health facility located about 30 kilometres from Bikoro. Health facilities in Bikoro have very limited functionality, and rely on international organizations to provide supplies that frequently stock out…We know that addressing this outbreak will require a comprehensive and coordinated response. WHO will work closely with health authorities and partners to support the national response.
According to BBC News, “this is the ninth time an Ebola outbreak has been recorded in the DR Congo. The virus was first discovered there in 1976 (when the country was known as Zaire) and is named after the Ebola river.”
Ebola is thought to be transmitted to humans via contact with infected animals such as the fruit bat, or eating infected bushmeat. However, it is worth noting that scientists aren’t exactly sure how Ebola is spread, at least initially, so let that thought fester. Once a person is infected, the virus can be spread through blood or body fluids or objects contaminated with body fluids.
The biggest outbreak of Ebola occurred in West Africa from roughly 2014 to 2016 and killed over 11,000 people. According to the CDC, “Many of these survivors suffer from persistent medical conditions after recovery from Ebola, including joint pain, eye problems, headaches, and other chronic health issues.”