RICHMOND, Va. — For the first time in nearly 25 years, Diane Woolard, an epidemiologist with the Virginia Department of Health, revisited a time when the Ebola virus consumed the Commonwealth.
“This is the first time Ebola Virus was isolated in the United States,” Woolard said about an outbreak in late 1989 and early 1990. Research monkeys from the Philippines at a quarantine facility in Reston, Virginia, started getting sick and dying. “Five of them tested positive for Ebola Virus,” she said.
Four humans who worked with the monkeys tested positive for Ebola too.
“Their blood showed they had been exposed to Ebola virus,” Woolard said.
For three weeks, Woolard and others monitored the workers to see if they would get sick.
“People from the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) were drawing blood, testing their blood,” Woolard said.
The workers never got sick.
Dr. Dave McRuer, Director of Veterinary Medicine at the The Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro, said the outbreak served as the “gold standard” for vet training.
“A lot of times we don’t know what these animals may be carrying,” McRuer said.
He said the incident was a scary reminder of why people who work with wild animals should take every precaution.
“Whether it be gloves on your hands, a mask on your mouth, or, in some cases, full body suits,” McRuer said.
Woolard said the Northern Virginia buildings where the outbreak occurred were emptied in 1991 and torn down in 1995.
That outbreak is now known as Ebola-Reston. It is a different strain from the Ebola virus impacting Africa right now.