Ebola Outbreak - Cotton Factory in Sudan

Ebola Outbreak - Cotton Factory in Sudan World History Medicine Social Studies

In the early summer of 1976, a mysterious and deadly illness—which appears highly contagious—is striking people in Sudan.

It seems that several of the sick people either work at, or have some type of direct (or indirect) contact with, a cotton factory at Nzara (located in today's South Sudan).

From Nzara, the illness spreads to Maridi, Tembura and Juba. For details, see this long-loading PDF from the World Health Organization, entitled "Ebola Haemorrhagic Fever in Sudan, 1976," which tells us that a total of 284 cases caused 151 deaths (for a mortality rate of 53%).

The image above depicts an aerial view of that cotton factory which reportedly housed bats and rodents as well as workers and cotton products

The CDC’s Public Health Image Library maintains the aerial photo, for which it provides this description:

This photograph showed an aerial view of a cotton factory located in Nzara, Sudan where the earliest cases in the 1976 Sudan Ebola outbreak had worked.

Dr. Joe McCormick and Dr. Roy Baron, along with a number of other investigators, went through this factory looking for the source of the virus, however, none was found.

From these early cases of Ebola hemorrhagic fever (Ebola HF), the virus started to spread from the factory through the town of Nzara, and then went east to the town of Maridi, where the virus killed many staff members of the local hospital, as well as numerous patients.

The aerial photo was taken by Dr. Joel Breman, of the CDC, who also investigated the Ebola 1976 outbreak at Yambuku.

Some of the investigators came to believe that bats, living in the Nzara Cotton Factory, may have played a role in causing the illness which was ultimately determined to be Ebola. (This image provides a view of the factory's interior.)

Why did investigators believe bats could have been involved? This image depicts a store room, inside the factory, where walls (near the ceiling) are stained by bat droppings and urine.  To this day, however, medical researchers and investigators are unsure how the 1976 Sudan "index patient" contracted the illness.

Original Release: Nov 21, 2014

Updated Last Revision: Nov 11, 2016

Media Credits

Image of the exterior of the cotton factory, described above, online via CDC Public Health Image Library, image #7091.


Image depicting interior of the cotton factory, online via Dr. Barbara J. Becker and UC Irvine.



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