Modern medicine has eradicated some of humanity's deadliest plagues, but there are many places in the world where dangerous illnesses remain a common threat. Ebola has been popping up in the headlines over the past few years, especially after a 2014 outbreak infected several people in the United States. Throughout history, Ebola has been one of the world's deadliest viruses with a high case fatality rate. The worst Ebola outbreaks stand out as some of the most horrifying epidemics of all time.
Scientists are working on a vaccine for the Ebola virus, but it has been a long road to developing a viable treatment. With each outbreak, many people unfortunately still die from the disease. The first Ebola vaccine was distributed to select regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the first half of 2018, sparking hope that Ebola deaths could become a thing of the past. The vaccine is not ready for worldwide deployment, but signs of a decreasing Ebola fatality rate are already starting to show. Reading about all the historic Ebola outbreaks will help remind us all why medical research is so important, and what an epidemic looks like without access to vaccines. To learn more facts about Ebola, browse this list.
2013 - 2016 West African Ebola Virus Epidemic
Date: December 2013 - March 29, 2016
Number Infected: 28,652
Case Fatality Rate: 39%
The West African Ebola virus epidemic was the single most deadly Ebola outbreak in recorded history. Over 10,000 people died in 10 different countries, including the United States. The virus originated in Guinea before spreading to neighboring countries. Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone were the most severely impacted by the outbreak and saw the highest death toll.
International efforts to stabilize the region persisted for several years, until the director of the World Health Organization (WHO) announced an end to the crisis in March 2016. In a statement, she announced, "The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is no longer a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. However a high level of vigilance and response capacity must be maintained to ensure the ability of the countries to prevent Ebola infections and to rapidly detect and respond to flare-ups in the future."
1976 Yambuku Ebola Outbreak
Date: August 1976
Number Infected: 318
Case Fatality Rate: 88%
One of the highest case fatality rates of any Ebola outbreak occured during the 1976 outbreak in Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The plague struck the small village of Yambuku and the surrounding areas, killing the vast majority of infected patients. Only 38 of the 318 confirmed victims would survived their infection. The hospital played a large role in the spread of the infection as they had been using unsterilized needles to treat multiple patients.
1995 Zaire Outbreak
Date: April 4, 1995 - July 16, 1995
Number Infected: 317
Case Fatality Rate: 77%
Like many outbreaks, this one was first identified after a flair at a hospital. The city of Kikwit, home to 400,000 Congolese at them time, suffered through a terrifying outbreak of Ebola that would leave hundreds dead. The disease struck during a turbulent time in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's history, worsening the conditions of the epidemic. International aid workers struggled in getting access to infected patients, and local health care personnel were unable to keep effectively treat the disease.
2000 - 2001 Uganda SUDV Outbreak
Date: August 2000 - January 16, 2001
Number Infected: 425
Case Fatality Rate: 53%
A major outbreak of the SUDV Ebola strain left hundreds dead after the virus spread to three separate districts in Uganda. The outbreak's origin was traced back to the Gulu District, where the Gulu Hospital was particularly afflicted. Many early cases of the virus were from health care personnel who lacked the proper equipment to prevent their own contamination while treating patients. Family members of infected individuals were also at a higher risk of developing the disease, as it can pass on even after the infected is deceased. Reports of people developing SUDV after attending funerals for infected victims are fairly common.