Forty years after first Ebola outbreak, survivors show signs they can stave off new infection

December 14, 2017

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, which will be published online December 14 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.

"Unimaginable death tolls and devastation to families and communities have occurred as a result of Ebola," said lead author Anne Rimoin, associate professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. "With the number and frequency of Ebola outbreaks increasing over time, the need to find effective measures to combat and prevent outbreaks is critical."

Rimoin said researchers know there are more than 10,000 survivors of the West Africa epidemic, but they don't know what long-term health effects those survivors may endure in the future. Their goal, she said, was to locate survivors of the initial 1976 outbreak to learn what happens 40 years after infection.

Since no online records of the 1976 outbreak investigation existed, the UCLA team collaborated with and gained access to handwritten notes from three scientists who investigated that outbreak -- Dr. Peter Piot and Dr. David Heymann of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Professor Jean Jacques Muyembe of the Institut National de Recherche Biomedical in Kinshasa.

The UCLA researchers traveled to small, remote villages in the forests of the Équateur Province to locate and meet the survivors, and gain access to data. They used a mobile laboratory that was set up in a mud hut to do their work.
The research was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Faucett Catalyst Fund, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a DFG fellowship, the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health and the University of California Global Health Institute.

Study co-authors are Matthew Bramble, Reena Doshi, Nicole Hoff, Vivian Alfonso, Christina Ramirez and Cyrus Sinai of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health; Kai Lu, Imke Steffen, Lauren Yamamoto, and Graham Simmons of UCSF; Patrick Mukadi and Jean Jacques Muyembe-Tamfum of Institut National de Recherche Biomedicale in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo; Bradly Nicholson of Institute for Medical Research in North Carolina; Gerrard Olinger, James Pettitt, James Logue, Richard Bennett, Peter Jahrling and Lisa Hensley of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases NIH Integrated Research Facility at Fort Detrick; Emile Okitolonda Wemakoy of Kinshasa School of Public Health; Benoit Kebela Illunga of Direction de la Lutte Contre les Maladies in the Democratic Republic of Congo; and Heymann and Piot of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Heymann is also with the Chatham House Center on Global Health Security.

Media Contact:
Enrique Rivero

University of California - Los Angeles Health Sciences

Related Public Health Articles from Brightsurf:

COVID-19 and the decolonization of Indigenous public health
Indigenous self-determination, leadership and knowledge have helped protect Indigenous communities in Canada during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, and these principles should be incorporated into public health in future, argue the authors of a commentary in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal)

Public health consequences of policing homelessness
In a new study examining homelessness, researchers find that policy such a lifestyle has massive public health implications, making sleeping on the street even MORE unhealthy.

Electronic health information exchange improves public health disease reporting
Disease tracking is an important area of focus for health departments in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pandemic likely to cause long-term health problems, Yale School of Public Health finds
The coronavirus pandemic's life-altering effects are likely to result in lasting physical and mental health consequences for many people--particularly those from vulnerable populations--a new study led by the Yale School of Public Health finds.

The Lancet Public Health: US modelling study estimates impact of school closures for COVID-19 on US health-care workforce and associated mortality
US policymakers considering physical distancing measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 face a difficult trade-off between closing schools to reduce transmission and new cases, and potential health-care worker absenteeism due to additional childcare needs that could ultimately increase mortality from COVID-19, according to new modelling research published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

The Lancet Public Health: Access to identification documents reflecting gender identity may improve trans mental health
Results from a survey of over 20,000 American trans adults suggest that having access to identification documents which reflect their identified gender helps to improve their mental health and may reduce suicidal thoughts, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

The Lancet Public Health: Study estimates mental health impact of welfare reform, Universal Credit, in Great Britain
The 2013 Universal Credit welfare reform appears to have led to an increase in the prevalence of psychological distress among unemployed recipients, according to a nationally representative study following more than 52,000 working-age individuals from England, Wales, and Scotland over nine years between 2009-2018, published as part of an issue of The Lancet Public Health journal on income and health.

BU researchers: Pornography is not a 'public health crisis'
Researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) have written an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health special February issue arguing against the claim that pornography is a public health crisis, and explaining why such a claim actually endangers the health of the public.

The Lancet Public Health: Ageism linked to poorer health in older people in England
Ageism may be linked with poorer health in older people in England, according to an observational study of over 7,500 people aged over 50 published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

Study: Public transportation use linked to better public health
Promoting robust public transportation systems may come with a bonus for public health -- lower obesity rates.

Read More: Public Health News and Public Health Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to