Yes, there were signs that Ebola was in west Africa, perhaps as far back as 1973

If a bat carries the Ebola virus or something related in the forest, people find signs of infection in humans, publish it and read about it, but no-one remembers, does it make a sound?


Apparently, it does. The New York times found studies reporting signs of Ebola virus antibodies in humans in Liberia in samples collected back in 1982.

Ebola virus or something related

I’ll see your 1982 and raise you 1973! That’s when other samples were found to contain antibodies to Ebola virus. This finding doesn’t come up in the abstract for this article but is in the Methods and Materials section of the study.

..antibodies specific for Marburg virus and Ebola virus antigens tested by immunoblotting (21% and 14%,respectively)

We noted this paper in 2014 – in a piece for the Conversation – and listed some other articles which found similar signs of prior human exposure to Ebola virus or something related.[1,5,6] The NYT piece has also captured some of these papers by the looks of it including one we had not listed.

In many cases, these scientific papers require paying a fee or having a link to Institutions that have a good library. Many researchers, clinicians and public health professionals have these links.

It seems there were people aware that Ebola virus or something related, was pretty much “always” in these forests. Especially within the regions underneath the flyways of some likely filovirus-host bat species.

Despite this, there doesn’t seem to have been much public-facing action taken on these reports. Maybe that was due to one or more of the following.

  • The serology assays were perhaps too non-specific or otherwise unreliable (were they cross-reacting with as-yet unknown filoviruses (h/t Stephen Goldstein) perhaps such as the newly discovered ebolavirus discovered in bats from the Bombali district of Sierra Leone
  • No-one thought much of the capacity of Ebola virus disease (EVD) to cause a much larger outbreak? 
  • Few cared about smaller outbreaks because they had always been controlled or ‘burned out’ previously?
  • We just didn’t care because it was “over there” (in Africa)?
  • It was forgotten soon after its publication?

But knowing is only one step in a plan to prepare

Ultimately it doesn’t matter what the reasons were. The global political willingness to invest the mental and physical capital in a program that could think about, monitor and foresee the risks associated with anything found…doesn’t exist.

An absent long view isn’t a problem specific to EVD of course. Trying to stay ahead of infectious threats will take much more devotion than the world has shown it can muster to date. Even when we can see their potential for harm, there are only so many resources we will mobilise for infectious threats that aren’t knocking on our specific door.


  1. No evidence of LAV infection in the Republic of Liberia, West Africa, in the year 1973.
    Neppert J, Göhring S, Schneider W, Wernet P.
  2. How Ebola started, spread and spiralled out of control
  3. Yes, We Were Warned About Ebola
  4. A serological survey on viral haemorrhagic fevers in Liberia
  5. Hemorrhagic fever virus infections in an isolated rainforest area of central Liberia. Limitations of the indirect immunofluorescence slide test for antibody screening in Africa.
  6. Undiagnosed Acute Viral Febrile Illnesses, Sierra Leone
  7. New strain of Ebola virus found in Bombali Sierra Leone – says ministry of health
  8. New Ebola species is reported for first time in a decade


  1. 19OCT2015: Added references [4], [5] and [6]

*Imported post

  1. This post from 09APR2015 was posted over on my old blog platform and has now been moved to here and lightly updated. 

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