The epidemic hemorrhagic fever caused by the Ebola virus in countries of West Africa is out of control, but it can be halted, said on Friday the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Margaret Chan. The risk of an outbreak of Ebola in Greece is very low, according to existing data, reported the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the American epidemiologist Patrick E. Olson of the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, Ebola is not a new virus but dates back to antiquity. The American scientist, with a letter in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, invokes Thucydides and says that the Ebola virus was responsible for the death of one-third of Athenians (300,000 people) during the Peloponnesian War (431-421 BC). So far, historians and epidemiologists can’t be sure of the identity of the disease, despite detailed descriptions of symptoms by the Greek historian. The bubonic plague, typhus fever and the flu are considered as possible causes but none of these diseases is covering the range of symptoms of famine that hit Athens in the summer of 430 BC killing Pericles, the famous ancient Greek politician.
According to Thucydides, who was hit by the disease and luckily survived, all began with strong headaches and inflammation of the eyes which were turning red. Many of the victims were dying because of internal fever.
Olson had read about the famine in Athens in Life magazine when he was still a child. Years later, when he read about the outbreak of the Ebola virus in the city Kikwit in Zaire, something clicked in his mind.
He noticed that both diseases appeared and disappeared suddenly and that in both cases the victims died very quickly. Furthermore, according to the ancient text, those who were taking care of the patients were also affected, while the disease had not spread among the Lacedaemonian besiegers were outside the city walls. This indicates transmission of the disease by contact and not by air, which is the case with the Ebola virus. But what really has been particularly significant for the American scientist was the unusual symptom of hiccup which not only tortured ancient Athenians but also 15% of patients in the Ebola virus in Zaire.
Olson also refers to the blue monkeys that were depicted in murals in ancient Santorini (Thera). Certain monkey species are hosts for the Ebola virus.
However, the American scientist claims that the virus could have been transferred in Athens via the seamen who were exercising trade in the African coast. Today it is impossible to find out who was the original carrier of the virus, but it is worth mentioning that according to Thucydides, the virus came to Athens from Piraeus Port.
Despite all evidence presented by Olson, scientists are not able to verify his assumptions not because of lack of the appropriate scientific methods but because there is no material to examine and study. Any genetic evidence of the virus has been lost with its victims as the ancient Greeks used to burn the dead, unlike the Egyptians who were embalming them.