The immune systems of people who survived the first Ebola outbreak 40 years ago appear to be protecting them against future infection with the deadly virus, a new study finds.
The discovery could help in efforts to develop vaccines and drugs to treat Ebola, according to the researchers.
"With the number and frequency of Ebola outbreaks increasing over time, the need to find effective measures to combat and prevent outbreaks is critical," study lead author Anne Rimoin said in a news release from the University of California, Los Angeles. She's an associate professor of epidemiology at UCLA's School of Public Health.
"Unimaginable death tolls and devastation to families and communities have occurred as a result of Ebola," she noted.
Death rates among people infected with Ebola range from 25 percent to 90 percent. Ebola has been recognized since 1976, and has become infamous for its gruesome lethality -- in some cases, causing patients to hemorrhage internally and externally.
For the study, the researchers collected blood samples and compiled other health data from 14 people who survived the 1976 outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The survivors still lived in the same small, remote villages in the northwestern part of the country.
It's the first time that the effects of Ebola infection have been studied four decades later, and the first results that suggest Ebola survivors may be able to fight off future infections, the researchers said.
The study was published online recently in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on Ebola.
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