Ebola Marburg: The First Outbreak of a New Virus

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What is Ebola Marburg? Is this virus different than other Ebola outbreaks? And

Ebola Marburg is a strain of Ebola, named after the German city that experienced an outbreak in 1967. The Ebola Marburg outbreak sparked scientific interest in this new disease, and scientists rushed to find its origins.

Keep reading to find out more about Ebola Marburg.

1962-1976: The First Outbreaks

The first recorded outbreaks of the filoviruses occurred in a 15-year stretch in the 1960s and ‘70s. Distinct symptoms like victims’ red eyes helped doctors draw connections among the diseases. 

1960s: First Ebola Marburg Outbreak

Between 1962 and 1965, several Ugandan villages around Mount Elgon—not far from Kitum Cave—were hit with outbreaks of an unusual disease that killed not only villagers but also monkeys. The symptoms included a strange skin rash and bleeding. 

The village microbreaks went relatively unnoticed, but in 1967 a vaccine factory in the German city of Marburg experienced an outbreak that infected 31 people and killed seven.

The German factory imported African green monkeys in order to harvest their kidney cells to make vaccines. The virus came in with a shipment of several hundred monkeys from a monkey trader in Uganda who exported thousands of monkeys to Europe each year. 

The monkey trader’s standard practice was to perform only a visual inspection of the monkeys before they were exported, and to remove any that looked sick or injured. The sick monkeys were then released on a small nearby island in Lake Victoria, making the island a potential hotbed of viruses. 

Worse yet, when the trader was short on monkeys for an export, he would get some from the island. It’s possible that the Marburg virus was present on the island, and that the trader included some monkeys from the island in his shipment to Germany, setting off the outbreak there. 

Only two or three of the monkeys may have had the virus, and they likely didn’t show any symptoms when they arrived. But in the monkeys’ close quarters, the virus quickly spread and several monkeys died. 

The virus soon made the jump to humans, first infecting a factory employee tasked with feeding the monkeys and cleaning their cages. He died within weeks. 

After the Marburg virus outbreak, global health officials were eager to find the source of the virus so that they could contain it and avoid future outbreaks. Although the virus arrived in Marburg via monkeys, the virus killed the monkeys too quickly to make them viable hosts—so it had to have been another animal or insect to which the monkeys were exposed. 

The World Health Organization sent a team of investigators to Uganda, where the monkeys had been imported from, but they couldn’t identify the source. 

Ebola Marburg: The First Outbreak of a New Virus

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Richard Preston's "The Hot Zone" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The Hot Zone summary:

  • The many different strains of Ebola, including the deadliest kind with a kill rate of 90%
  • How scientists unraveled the mystery of a new strain of Ebola
  • How Ebola could become airborne, becoming one of the deadliest viruses known

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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