The recently diagnosed case of Ebola in Texas is not the first on American soil. The virus was first found in Reston, VA over 25 years ago.
Reston is a planned community about 20 miles outside of Washington, D.C. My family lived very close to the facility that housed the monkeys that were infected with the Ebola virus. We were in danger of being placed under quarantine, after one of deadliest viruses known to man was found in our backyard, and we never even had a clue.
The infected monkeys had been imported from the Phillipines. The monkeys were being used for testing at Hazleton laboratories off Sunset Hills Road, an area surrounded by businesses, restaurants and residential communities.
Things escalated when the monkeys began dying rapidly at the rate of 2-3 per day. Even when efforts were made to isolate the monkeys into separate cages, they were still becoming ill at an alarming rate, This confirmed scientists’ biggest fear, this strain of Ebola was airborne.
Ebola was not known by the masses back in 1989, but those in the science community knew the gravity of the situation. If in fact this virus affected humans, the entire area would need to be quarantined, isolated from society, and then we would wait to see what would become of us.
Four lab workers were found to be positive for the virus and were placed in isolation and remained under close observation. If they ended up falling ill, crisis mode would begin. The known strains of Ebola at that time were fatal to humans 90% of the time.
Thankfully, they did not fall ill, and the strain was found to not affect humans. Crisis averted. At least it was that time. This particular strain of Ebola came to be known as Ebola Reston.
Hazmat teams were brought in to clean up the mess, which was the first clue to the public that anything had occurred. Even then, the details were not fully understood.
The building was torn down and a day care facility was built in its place, erasing all signs that anything had happened.
Years later, a book entitled “The Hot Zone” was published which detailed all of the events surrounding the Ebola Reston crisis. Hollywood also cashed in on the plot, creating a movie called “Outbreak” starring Dustin Hoffman, which was based on what might have happened if the airborne Ebola strain was found to affect humans.
For those who saw the movie, remember the scene at the end where the whole town was about to be obliterated to stop the spread of the strain? And then Dustin Hoffman heroically saved them at the last minute? Sounds like Hollywood sensationalism, but the truth is, Reston was very close to being that place.
And the terrifying part was that we had ABSOLUTELY no idea.