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On November 20, 2017, we celebrated with a small symposium the virological veterans Prof. Werner Slenczka, formerly Institute for Hygiene, Marburg, und Dr. Günther Müller, formerly BNITM, who discovered the Marburg virus 50 years ago. Our colleague Prof. Dennis Tappe used the occasion to again consider the role of BNITM in the discovery of the Filoviruses. He found that the first documented outbreak of the Ebola virus had not taken place – unlike commonly reported – at the Ebola river in midsummer 1976 but in Southern Sudan already earlier in summer that year and had been studied by Dr. Jürgen Knobloch from BNITM and virologically characterized at the BNITM.
RNA consists of chains of building blocks very similar to the genetic storage moiety DNA but is on one hand structurally more flexible and functionally more versatile and on the other much less stable. In order to protect it from unwarranted degradation, the first building block of certain RNA molecules, the messenger RNA, contains a chemical modification called ”cap“. Viruses can survive in the body only when their own messenger RNAs also contain this cap structure.
During the operations of the ”European Mobile Laboratories“ (EMLabs) in the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic, blood samples were taken from 157 Ebola patients shortly after hospital admission. We compared the immune responses between patients who survived and those who died in the course of the infection.
Yambuku, Zaire (Today Democratic Republic of Kongo) – August 1976
End of August 1976, WHO reported on cases of haemorrhagic fever at Yambuku, near the creek of Ebola in the north of former Zaire. Electron microscopic examinations of samples from the Nzara and Yambuku outbreaks in the US-American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Antwerp University and the Microbiological Research Establishment (MRE) in Porton Down, England, showed a high morphological similarity to each other and to the virus from the Marburg cases of 1967. Staining with patients` antisera revealed that the African viruses closely resembled each other but differed from those from Marburg.
Nzara, Sudan (Today Republic of South Sudan) – June 1976
End of June 1976, from Nzara in southern Sudan, close to the border of former Zaire, several cases of a fatal disease had been reported, which had also affected the staff of the regional hospital at Maridi. In August 1976, WHO had requested international help for the deserted hospital. Dr. Juergen Knobloch from BNITM went on his own and later reported that he had been the only doctor in the hospital for quite some time.
Marburg, Germany - August 1967
In late summer 1967, keepers of primates (Green Monkeys) in the Behring Company came down with high fever, internal hemorrhages and organ failure. Five of the 25 pa-tients died. Shortly thereafter, the infection was also reported from institutes in Frankfurt and Belgrade, which also kept Green Monkeys.