There are two important historical epidemics to note that are very similar to Ebola. The first took place in 1816 along the Zaire/Conga River. The second along the Niger River where it connects with Tschadda. These are both epidemic that began with fever outbreaks, but which led to a high fatality rate and had symptoms that demonstrate a unique form of internal organs deterioration that other fever epidemics do not normally present with. Fewer cases demonstrated the internal blood mass formations seen in the more contemporary outbreaks. The most resemblance between these two outbreaks are their dates of initiation, days until fever symptoms, speed of spread to their others in the teams, and time until death. Both were also colloquially termed “River Fever” These support my premise that the Ebola and some similar diseases have been around since they were first noted by the Portuguese missionaries in the 1690s. Both of these overlap with the geographic distribution that we currently are familiar with, and are consistent with the topography, ecology and human population features determining how this disease may be spread.
Two months ago I posted two pages in sequence about the possibility that Ebola struck Africa much earlier than first noted in current journal articles. This a re-posting of the first one of the two. (Expect more on this epidemic history research at a later date.)
The very first map of diseases of the world depicts a condition with all the symptomatology, appearances and high degree of fatality the current Ebola outbreaks now present us with. This map was produced by Friedrich Schnurrer, a professor in Oriental culture and history ( I review him extensively, with his biographies included, at https://brianaltonenmph.com/gis/historical-disease-maps/friedrich-schnurrers-charte-uber-die-geographische-ausbreitung-der-krankheiten-1827/ ).
Schnurrer’s map was dated 1827, and includes a description of a disease unique to the Congo, and no other parts of the world, described as “Gangran des Mastdarms nach heftigen Kopf u. lenden schmerzen Berriberri (Zuchelli)” (see also my own blog page with this– https://brianaltonenmph.com/2014/10/14/is-there-an-early-history-for-ebola-preliminary-review-says-yes/ ).
An NIH article and complete book chapter devoted to this map also available for review at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2530995/ and https://www.academia.edu/909628/The_first_global_map_of_the_distribution_of_human_diseases_Friedrich_Schnurrers_Charte_%C3%BCber_die_geographische_Ausbreitung_der_Krankheiten_1827_
One of the issues or concerns about reviewing historical medical writings on epidemics is whether or not the researcher is able to accurately identify the diseases writers refer to, especially prior to the 1860s. This is when the differentiation of shared symptoms such fever, changes in skin color, and sweating were still questionable. Physicians often described these symptoms in relation to just their fever cycles, and the place where the disease happened. Topography and climate were just as important to identifying a disease as its exact symptomatology. A ten or fifteen year difference in the references selected to make these identifications can easily result in misidentifications.
Still, we are very fortunate when it comes to trying to define “Gangren des mastdarms” on Schnurrer’s map. Due to its uniquely deadly nature, and the symptoms it produced in its victims, Ebola can be differentiated from something as basic or simple as the various forms of malaria, yellow fever, and the flu. Ebola was deadly, and caused symptoms such as a blackening of the skin prior to death, ulcerations, a rotting away of flesh. Schnurrer’s map refers these symptoms for this disease (loose translation: Gangrene of the colon/rectum/lower intestine followed by heavy head & lumbar pain, beriberi), which occur only along the Congo River, that emaciating symptom, blistering with some resemblances to gangrene, the destruction of abdominal flesh, occurring over just a few days, leading to death.
To confirm this suspicion, I uncovered two very convincing accounts of Ebola outbreaks that involved one missions program and a British military team making their way along the Congo river. The earliest such epidemic occurred in the early colonial periods (see http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Zucchelli ), the second took place during the early 1800s as Africa was being explored much more deeply within its interior.
These two events, due to their symptoms and greater than 50% mortality, in very short time, and because of the descriptive information provided, are possibly early accounts of Ebola. If they are not exactly the Ebola we know of today, they are certainly a relative or precursor of the more recent genotypes being expressed. A common feature of the evolutionary theories of diseases states that less dangerous forms of the disease erupted prior to the current much more deadly outbreaks. When I defended my identification of the Oregon Trail “cholera” as not being Vibrio cholerae (V. comma). [One CDC microbiologist and geneticist then present suggested it might even be one of the contemporary E. Coli strains with a choleratoxic like effect].
Ebola is a disease that is ecological in nature. Chances are, it didn’t evolve recently in Africa, but instead presented itself several times before the 1960s. Each time we make new attempts to inhabit and further settle some of the most heavily forested parts of Africa, we expose ourselves to new ecological settings where we can come in contact with previous strains of Ebolavirus that we haven’t yet become infected by.
For additional citations related to the above, see
Zeitrechnungs-Tafeln für den historischen Handatlas: Mit steter Rücksicht … By Friedrich Wilhelm Benicken . 1824.
“Deo Pater-Merolla Reife nach Congo. 1696. Der Missionar Ant. Zuchelli bereifet Congo. – Die Portugifen werden vom Kuatenhandel verbrängt, behalten jedoeh Mazagan und die vier Guinea-Infeln.”
and my other ScoopIt! posting on this: http://www.scoop.it/t/an-episurveillance-researchers-guide/p/4029834704/2014/10/14/is-there-an-early-history-for-ebola-preliminary-review-says-yes